Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A website for Government Solar Checker, a solar panel company, www.governmentsolarchecker.com, seen on 3 June 2019 stated on the home page “Get Solar Panels […] You Could Save Up To 70% On Your Energy Bills”. Below there was a “Check Postcode” button which when clicked led to a form for consumers to complete their contact details. Further text on the home page stated “We helped 10, 190 homeowners save an average of 63% on their monthly bills last year and save an average of £13,892 We Can Help You […] How Do I Qualify? Let’s find out if you match our criteria to qualify: There are funding options available to have a new solar panel system installed without having to pay anything upfront …”.
1. The complainant, who believed that no funding for solar panels existed, challenged whether the claims in the ad were misleading and could be substantiated.
2. The ASA challenged whether the ad falsely implied that the marketer was acting for purposes outside its trade, business craft or profession.
1. Rock Paper Click Ltd t/a Government Solar Checker said that they believed they made it clear that there was a finance option to purchase the solar panels and that they would be prepared to remove the word “funding” in the ad so that it read “there are options available”. They said that there was no funding available and they believed that they had removed all references to it, but they did not use it as a “sales point”. They said there might be a return to funding or free systems for those in fuel poverty, but that was not confirmed at the present time.
Evergen Systems, the solar panel supplier, said their funding was supplied by a bank who would finance customers with zero upfront cost for renewable products only. The finance company would pay Evergen directly and the whole process was overseen by Energy Performance Validation Scheme (EPVS) which was a faction of Home Insulation and Energy Systems Quality Assured Contractors Scheme (HEIS). EPVS was a third-party consumers’ protection agency whose requirements they abided by and who would only authorise installations when they were happy that the customer was fully understanding of their purchase and the figures given to ensure projected savings were realistic. They said the funding did exist and they had had it for over two years.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand from the ad that they would be able to find out whether they were entitled to receive government funding to pay for the costs of installing a solar panel at their property. We noted that the ad included the questions “Why Get Solar Panels?”, “How Do I Qualify?” and “We Can Help You”, which was accompanied by a box that offered consumers a means to check whether a solar panel company was in their postcode, to get a home survey and arrange a date for the solar panels to be installed. The ad further stated that the system would be installed without consumers “having to pay anything upfront”.
We considered that in the context of a website called “Government Solar Checker” consumers would understand that some form of government funding would cover the cost of the solar panel installation. However, Government Solar Checker confirmed that no funding was available from the government and that finance was in fact provided by a private bank when consumers entered into a contract with the supplier, Evergen Systems.
We therefore concluded that the ad misleadingly implied that homeowners could qualify for government funding to cover the cost of solar panel installation by providing their contact details to Government Solar Checker, when that was not the case.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).
The CAP Code required that ads did not falsely claim or imply that the marketer was acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession.
We considered that consumers would understand from the ad that Government Solar Checker would assess consumers’ eligibility for, and help them obtain, funding for the purchase and installation of solar panels and that providing expertise and support in obtaining the funding and supplying the solar panels was a significant part of their business. However, we understood that the form on the website was used to gather consumers’ contact details which were then passed on to a separate company that supplied both the solar panels and the finance to purchase them. Government Solar Checker was therefore principally a lead generation company, the purpose of which was to gain consumers’ personal information and contact details for dissemination to Evergen Systems. Because Government Solar Checker did not make clear that they were primarily a lead generating company and instead suggested that they were a company offering government funding for solar panels, we concluded that the marketer falsely implied that they were acting for purposes outside their trade and therefore breached the Code.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 2.3 (Recognition of marketing communications).
The ad must not appear again in the form complaint of. We told Rock Paper Click Ltd to ensure that future marketing communications did not imply that consumers could qualify for government-based solar panel funding by using their website. We also told them to ensure they did not falsely imply they were acting for purposes outside of their trade and to make clear the nature of their business.