Energy Marketing Scams

The frequent changes in the availability of energy efficiency incentives make it easy for dishonest companies to scam consumers. They say that funding or grants are available for their products, yet ask consumers to pay for the products up front or take out a loan. Consumers are told that they will receive their money back over time but rarely do. They often overinflate their prices and then apply ‘discounts’ which are supposedly equivalent to government grants.

Misleading Energy Marketing

In Scotland, nuisance calls and adverts on social media are the main lead generators for the sale of energy efficiency products. Scottish consumers receive significantly more nuisance calls from companies selling energy efficiency products than those in other parts of the UK.

Traders using misleading marketing to imply that government grants are available for their products are increasingly using social media adverts to run surveys which provide them with consumers’ contact details.

The goods provided by these companies are usually poor quality, not fit for purpose and do not deliver the benefits promised before installation. In the last year, consumers across Scotland have lost well over £80,000 through misleading green energy sales.

Some of the most frequently reported misleading energy marketing scams relate to:

Insulation

Scottish consumers continue to receive cold calls from companies offering to carry out surveys of their loft insulation or telling them that their insulation needs to be replaced.

One elderly woman was cold called by a company who asked how old her existing loft insulation was. The caller claimed that any insulation laid over two years ago could be hazardous due to loose fibres and that it should be removed and refitted. They had not actually inspected the insulation before making these claims.

They told her that, if the insulation needed to be replaced, she may be eligible to receive free insulation under a Scottish Government campaign. The woman said that she would take some time to think about what to do, but the company continued to phone her to try to persuade her to reconsider.

Another man was cold called and asked about his loft insulation. The caller said that any insulation laid over two years ago could be unsafe due to loose fibres and offered to come to the man’s house and use a machine to check the air quality. They told him that, if it needed to be replaced, he would be eligible to receive free insulation under a Scottish Government campaign.

The man did not agree to arrange an appointment.

In other recent cases, cold callers have claimed that the householder’s existing loft insulation could be hazardous to their health due to its age and have attempted to sell them spray foam insulation.

The Energy Saving Trust advise that if you have regular loft insulation above the ceiling, you do not need additional spray foam insulation. In fact, if the insulation is not needed, it could end up rotting your roof timbers.
Consumer body Which? recently published a useful article looking at different types of spray foam insulation and whether it is right for your home.

Boilers

There have been several reports of doorstep scammers targeting vulnerable people with offers of ‘free’ boilers.
The scammers claim to work for an energy company and tell the householder that they are eligible to receive a government grant to upgrade their boiler.

Although the new boiler is apparently free, some scammers ask for a ‘deposit’ of hundreds of pounds, to be paid by cheque, saying that this will be refunded once the grant has been approved.

In other cases, if the consumer agrees to have a new boiler installed, the scammers ask for their personal details, supposedly for the boiler insurance, costing thousands of pounds. A loan is then taken out in the consumer’s name.

The image below uses wording from genuine adverts which have appeared on social media and shows what these misleading adverts SAY compared to what they actually MEAN:

Solar Panels

There are frequent reports of cold callers visiting people’s homes and providing misleading information about the safety of their solar panels in order to persuade them to upgrade them.

Other consumers receive cold calls from companies offering solar panel servicing or mis-selling warranties, repairs or upgrades for solar inverters. They are wrongly told that they need to replace or upgrade their inverters by salespeople who take advantage of a lack of understanding about what inverters actually do.

Some consumers who already have solar panels have been mis-sold PV + solar panel booster boxes, being told that they will provide a large increase in the amount of electricity generated through the panels. In fact, the maximum potential saving achieved through many of these boxes when they are properly fitted is 5%.  Many boxes are fitted incorrectly by rogue traders and so don’t deliver any savings at all.

One man in his 90s was cold called by a solar inverter salesperson, who told him that his existing inverter was no longer working and he would need to buy a new one for £3,000.

Although the man’s existing inverter was working perfectly well and was still covered by the original warranty, he was confused by the salesperson’s lengthy and jargon-filled pitch and was convinced that he should pay for an upgrade. Thankfully, his live-in-carer was able to prevent the sale from going ahead.

Heating Systems

There have been reports of cold callers who say they work for an energy company and are offering funding for new heaters which will reduce consumers’ energy bills.

One woman in her 60s received a cold call offering new heaters. She was encouraged to take out a £13,000 loan to pay for them and was told that she would get the money back through a government grant.

The company didn’t complete the paperwork to allow her to get a grant and she was left with a huge loan that she wasn’t able to pay off

Double Glazing

Consumers often see adverts on social media advertising deals on new windows – they are usually asked to fill in a short survey to check whether they are eligible to receive a grant for new windows.

Their details are then passed on to another company who call or arrange a home visit, where they may use pressure selling tactics or misleading information to try to persuade the consumer to purchase new windows.

One couple saw an advert on social media 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 5 windows.

After the couple said that this was too expensive, the price was eventually brought down to around £8,000 and they were told that this offer was only available that night. By this point, it was midnight and the salesperson had been in the couple’s house for over three hours.

The couple eventually agreed to sign a contract in order to get rid of the salesperson, which involved taking out finance, and paid a £200 admin fee. When they tried to cancel, they received a series of threatening phone calls before the company eventually accepted the cancellation, but they didn’t receive the £200 back.

The image below uses wording from genuine adverts which have appeared on social media and shows what these misleading adverts SAY compared to what they actually MEAN:

Avoid Energy Marketing Scams

  • Avoid cold callers or adverts on social media. Don’t accept any information about energy saving measures or grants/funding offered from these sources without doing independent research, particularly if they tell you that there are grants or funding schemes available.
    Don’t fill out any online forms or questionnaires from adverts about energy efficiency measures and refuse to take part in any phone surveys from cold callers. These are designed to collect data and generate leads for companies who engage in misleading marketing. Several complaints have been received by customers who, after responding to adverts on Facebook, were called and subsequently visited by companies who pressured them into signing expensive contracts for products that they did not want or need
  • Research – have an impartial assessment carried out before agreeing to have any work done. Find out which energy saving measures will have the maximum impact and will be most beneficial to your home. An assessment should also tell you whether any pre-permissions or notificaions are required before installation (such as planning permission from your local authority or building control).
    Don’t agree to have an assessment done by a company who cold calls you – they may not be impartial.
  • Choose carefully – get at least 3 quotes from trusted companies before having any work done in or around your property. (Find reputable companies through the trusted sources listed above.)
    Base your choice on credible reviews (check at least 3 different review sites) and mandated accreditations/registrations such as the Gas Safe Register or the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. Check whether they offer warranties and guarantees and whether you need to seek planning permission before they start work.
  • Check that quality financial protection is offered in case anything goes wrong. This could be product warranties, insurance backed guarantees or another form of financial protection. Make sure you know any upfront fees and the total cost and length of any credit agreement. Find out whether the finance is tied to your home or energy use.
    Don’t sign any paperwork until you are sure that you understand all of the small print and terms and conditions. Remember that you are legally entitled to a 14 day cancellation period for all goods and services over £42 unless the product is bespoke.
    You can check funding and grants which are available in your area through Home Energy Scotland
  • Report any concerns about a purchase that you or a relative has made to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. If you feel hassled by a salesperson who refused to leave your home, call Police Scotland on 101.