Summary of Council decision:Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
A paid-for ad on Facebook and a website for Solar Funding, a solar panel company, seen on 15 November 2018:
a. The paid-for ad featured text which stated "The Government Fit Scheme Ends in 2019, Get Your Free Electricity Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace. Takes Less Than 30 Seconds To See If You Qualify For Government Incentives! Click Learn More To See if You Qualify. Don't Miss Out". Further text stated "Homeowners get FREE Electricity For Life!".b. The website www.solarfunding.org, featured text which stated "Last chance to claim Government Incentives for funded solar ... simply complete the form to check for grants, funding and incentives available". Further text stated "We carefully assess your needs and discuss whether a solar installation would be suitable for you. We find out what funding you might be entitled to" and "Increase the value of your property with an improved EPC rating".
The complainant challenged whether:
1. ads (a) and (b) falsely implied that homeowners could qualify for installation of solar panels through an Eco Solar Fund;
2. ads (a) and (b) falsely implied that the marketer was acting for purposes outside of its profession; and3. the claim "increase the value of your property with an improved EPC rating" in ad (b) was misleading and could be substantiated.
1. Valo Group Europe Ltd t/a Solar Funding said that their intention with the ads had been to draw consumers’ attention to the fact that the provision of incentives ‒ Government FIT Scheme ‒ was coming to an end. They said that once a consumer had provided their detail to Solar Funding, they would be told the source of the funding in follow-up contact. Solar Funding said the ads were directed at consumers who might not know about the scheme and were intended to act as a catalyst to them finding out more about it. They also said they felt the ads made clear that the funding did not relate to the installation of the panels themselves and that this was explained in follow-up contact with consumers.
2. Solar Funding reiterated that consumers were contacted after they provided their details and informed about the FIT Scheme, its end date, and any qualifying information. They said that if they felt a consumer’s energy costs were already low, they would explain that the scheme might not be beneficial to them. They said that they were regulated by the Home Insulation and Energy Systems Quality Assured Contractors Scheme (HEIS) and Energy Performance Validation Scheme (EPVS).3. Solar Funding said they believed a high Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating would be more attractive to prospective buyers than a lower rating and that this would manifest itself in an increase in the value of the relevant property. They provided two articles discussing the impact of solar panels on property value. However, they accepted that evidence was not adequate substantiation and that opinion was divided on whether renewable energy products add value to a property. They agreed to remove that claim from their marketing communications.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand from the wording of ad (a), and the accompanying photograph of solar panels, that they would be able to find out quickly whether or not they were entitled to ‘Government Incentives’ related to solar panels by clicking through to Solar Funding’s website. We also considered that consumers would understand there was a fund available which would support electricity costs. We considered that consumers would understand from ad (b) that if they completed a form on Solar Funding’s website, they would be told whether or not they qualified for any "Government Incentives for funded solar”. We noted that ads (a) and (b) made no mention of the fact that government funding would not cover the cost of solar panel installation. We noted that the home page of ad (b) went as far as to include the claim “There are no upfront costs and it can be fully funded”.
We noted also that Solar Funding had not provided any evidence demonstrating that members of the public had received grants or funding as a result of providing their details to Solar Funding.
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 interacting with the form on Solar Funding’s website. On that point 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 the ad that they could purchase solar panels from the website, there were government grants available for the provision of the panels and that Solar Funding would assess consumers’ eligibility and help them access the grants if eligible. We considered consumers would therefore understand that providing expertise and support in getting a government grant was a significant part of their business. However, we noted that the form in ad (b) was used to gather consumers’ contact details and that Solar Funding’s website did not contain any information about the provision of solar panels themselves. Furthermore, we had not seen any evidence that Solar Funding had successfully helped any consumers obtain government grants for solar panels. Because Solar Funding appeared to be an independent business that helped consumer access grants, but was in fact a business trying to sell consumers solar panels, we concluded that the ads falsely implied that they were acting for purposes outside their trade, and therefore breached the Code.
On that point ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 2.3 (Recognition of marketing communications).
We welcomed Solar Funding’s assurance that they would amend their advertising. We considered that consumers would interpret the claim "increase the value of your property with an improved EPC rating” in ad (b) to mean that installing solar panels on their property would increase its EPC rating and that this increase in rating would be reflected in an increase in the property’s value. Solar Funding provided two articles discussing this point – one from an energy saving comparison website and one from a property advice website. Both articles discussed the pros and cons of solar panel installation in terms of its impact on property value, but neither article concluded that installing solar panels would lead to an increase in property value as a result of an increased EPC rating or otherwise.We therefore concluded that Solar Funding had not provided adequate substantiation for the claim that solar panels would “increase the value of [a] property with an improved EPC rating” and so it was misleading. On that point ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).
The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Valo Group Europe Ltd t/a Solar Funding to ensure that future marketing communications did not imply that consumers could qualify for government-based solar panel funding by using their website and to make clear the nature of their business.