Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Two paid-for Facebook posts for Solar Panel Funding:
a. The first post seen on 11 May 2019 featured text which stated “Replace The Old Government Funding, This New Incentive Is Far More Lucrative Than The Previous Feed In Tariff Takes Less Than 30 Seconds To See If You Qualify For Funding For This Amazing Incentive! Click APPLY NOW To See If You Qualify. Don’t Miss Out, Check Your Postcode Now!” Further text stated “INSTALLING IN YOUR AREA Solar Panels FULLY FUNDED!” An “APPLY NOW” button was at the bottom of the page.
b. The second post seen on 11 May 2019 stated “New Incentive Launched For UK Homeowners Get Free Electricity From Your Roof! Claim Funding Today”. Text at the bottom of the post stated “GRIDTRADE.SOLARPANELFUNDING.CO.UK Claim Fully Funded Solar Today! …” accompanied by a “SIGN UP” button.
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. Solar Panel Funding Ltd said the solar industry was continually evolving and at the time of the complaint there was a transition occurring from the previous government funded Feed in Tariff (FiT) incentives to privately funded utility company incentives. They said the clients they dealt with ensured that all figures used for the new grid share incentives had been validated by Energy Performance Validation Scheme (EPVS) and they were all certified by the industry regulator The Home Insulation and Energy Systems Quality Assured Contractors Scheme (HIES). Solar Panel Funding said that historically the solar industry has used the term “funding” to describe the income that is generated via incentives that are in place at any given time, which they said generally provided a rate of return for the customer far in excess if what a system actually cost. They said the funding they referred to was the Grid sharing arrangement and the remaining export tariff which was still in place to bridge the gap between the end of the previous government FiT and the new Smart Export Guarantee due to start in early 2020. Solar Panel Funding said the grid sharing incentive was available via smart tariff providers and provided customers with the ability to trade energy stored in batteries to the grid at times of peak demand, for which the customer received a payment either into their bank or as a credit on their bill. They said because it was the company the customer was referred on to that would be installing the solar panel system, they were not able to provide information on customers who had successfully applied for and received the funds. They said consumers who responded were contacted by their call centre and then granted their permission to be transferred to one selected company to arrange a home survey and an explanation of the funding that was offered via the current grid share incentives. Solar Panel Funding provided two examples which showed the difference, over a 25-year period, between returns under the older government funded FiT and the privately funded sharing arrangements. They said that because consumers could receive a payback far in excess of what they paid for the system, the claim “fully funded” in the ad had been substantiated.
2. Solar Panel Funding Ltd said the purpose of the ads was to gain enquiries from consumers who were interested in the new Grid share incentives through installing solar panels and intelligent batteries. Solar Panel Funding provided a service that connected interested customers with one supplier that could assist in their enquiry. They said they did not disseminate customers’ details or engage in the sale of customer details for the purpose of multi-quotation marketing. They said they provided their service free of charge and the supplier they connected consumers with paid Solar Panel Funding a fee for that referral.
The ASA considered consumers would understand from the claims in ads (a) and (b) that they would be able to check very quickly whether they were entitled to obtain funding for solar panels by clicking through to the Solar Panel Funding website and that if they qualified, they could receive funds for the supply and installation of solar panel on their homes.
Ad (a) stated that a new, more lucrative incentive replaced “the old government funding”. We considered that consumers would expect that the funding offered was a new scheme replacing funding previously provided by the government to pay for the supply and installation of solar equipment. Consumers would similarly understand from ad (b) that funding was available immediately and that the solar panels were fully funded. However, we understood that when referring to funding, Solar Panel Funding was describing the income that could be generated from a particular solar panel incentive, after installation of the panels, rather than funds that were provided upfront by them in order for consumers to purchase solar panels.
We therefore concluded that ads (a) and (b) misleadingly implied that homeowners could qualify for funding to cover the cost of solar panel installation by clicking the “apply now” button on Solar Panel Funding’s website and providing their contact information.
On that point the ads (a) and (b) 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 ads (a) and (b) that Solar Panel Funding would assess consumers’ eligibility to apply for funds to purchase and install solar panels and that that was a significant part of their business. However, we understood that the purpose of the ads was to gain interest from consumers and then pass their details on to a supplier.
Because Solar Panel Funding did not make clear that they were primarily a lead generating business that provided consumers’ contact details to a supplier of solar panels, and instead suggested that they were an independent business that helped consumers access funding for solar panels, we concluded that they misleadingly implied they were acting for purposes outside of their profession and breached the Code.
On that point ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 2.3 (Recognition of marketing communications).
The ad must not appear again the form complained of. We told Solar Panel Funding Ltd to ensure that future marketing communications did not imply that consumers could qualify for 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.