Dozens of misleading energy market adverts have been removed following a campaign by Trading Standards Scotland to protect Scots consumers. The two-month long campaign has resulted in the identification of over 400 potential misleading social media adverts. Following intervention by Trading Standards Scotland, 29 web pages have been rectified or removed and nine advertising accounts have ceased activity, with over 70 live adverts removed.
The majority of these accounts were being operated by lead generation companies which aimed to gather consumers’ personal data in order to sell it on for financial gain.
Since the announcement of the UK Government’s Green Home Grant scheme in July, which offered vouchers for insulation and double glazing to homeowners in England, Trading Standards officers saw a marked increase in misleading social media adverts making false claims that energy efficiency grants were available to Scottish consumers for products such as boilers, doors and windows.
The companies behind these adverts took advantage of consumers’ uncertainty about the availability of different energy efficiency initiatives and used headlines such as ‘lockdown bounceback programme’ to capture attention. Clicking on the adverts led to web pages run by lead generation companies where consumers are asked to enter their personal details to find out whether they qualify for a discount.
In a bid to raise awareness of misleading energy efficiency ads and to point Scottish consumers towards legitimate and impartial sources of information, Trading Standards Scotland teamed up with Home Energy Scotland and Age Scotland to produce a series of short advice videos and a podcast about energy scams. The prevention campaign reached over half a million consumers.
Trading Standards Scotland have received several complaints in the last year from consumers who, after responding to similar adverts on social media, were called and subsequently visited by companies who pressured them into signing expensive contracts for products that they did not want or need.
In one case, a customer in Scotland saw an advert on Facebook promising ‘help to buy windows’. They filled in their details and were called 10 minutes later by a company offering a sales visit. A salesperson arrived at their house at 9pm and quoted £20,000 for five windows. After negotiation, the price was eventually dropped to around £8,000, but the customer was told that this offer was only available that night. By this point, it was midnight and the salesperson had been in the customer’s house for over three hours.
The customer eventually agreed to sign a contract to get rid of the salesperson, which involved taking out finance, and paid a £200 admin fee. When the customer tried to cancel, they received a series of threatening phone calls before the company eventually accepted the cancellation; however they refused to refund the £200.
Julie McCarron, Head of Intelligence and Coordination at Trading Standards Scotland, said:
“Misleading energy marketing is a priority area for Trading Standards Scotland and we work throughout the year to tackle the problem of rogue traders who are exploiting the existence of energy efficiency grants to make misleading marketing claims in relation to products.
“We would like to remind consumers to be wary of cold callers or social media adverts for energy saving products on social media. Never accept information offered from these sources without doing independent research, particularly if they tell you that there are grants or funding schemes available.
“Before agreeing to have any work done, have an impartial assessment carried out on your home to find out which energy efficiency measures will actually be beneficial to your property. Don’t agree to get an assessment done by a company who cold calls you – they will not be impartial.”
Harry Mayers, head of Home Energy Scotland, said:
“Working out what energy efficiency improvements are best for your home can seem like a daunting process, especially if you’re dealing with installation companies looking to make a sale.
“Home Energy Scotland is a completely impartial service funded by the Scottish Government – we don’t do cold calling and we’re not selling anything, but we are here to help you make the right choice.
“We can help you work out how to make your home more efficient, warmer and cheaper to heat. We’ll also let you know what funding is available to help cover the cost of improvements, including grants and loans from the Scottish Government.
“If you’re planning home improvements, give us a call free on 0808 808 2282 or visit homeenergyscotland.org to see how we can help.”
Caroline Rooks, policy officer at Age Scotland, said:
“Living in a home that you can afford to keep warm is essential for good health, and this only becomes more important as you get older.
“Improving your home’s energy efficiency comes with the dual benefit of making it easier to keep warm and reducing your energy bills.
“However, the confusing landscape around potential funding opportunities as well as the very technical nature of the installations that are on offer, means that scammers and rogue traders find it easy to take advantage of older people.
“If you are considering having any work done to your home or are unsure about offers you have received, please call our Helpline on 0800 12 44 222 to discuss your next steps.”
Nuisance calls or scam adverts should be reported to Scotland’s national consumer advice service, consumeradvice.scot, on 0808 164 6000 or through the website: www.consumeradvice.scot.