Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A paid-for Facebook ad for Solar Panel Funding, seen on 5 February 2018. The post stated “If you own your home & spend £30 or more on electricity per month you could qualify for solar panels installed under the Eco Solar Fund. Homeowners qualify for cutting edge battery storage and solar without having to touch a penny of their hard earned savings. Check your postcode now. #Blueplanet Together we can save our oceans.” Beneath the text was a picture of a home with solar panels on the roof. On top of this photo was a facsimile of a search engine which stated “Postcode” in the search button with a non-interactive red button next to it that stated “Check”. Beneath this text stated “Homeowners: Get Free Electricity For life! apply.solarpanelfunding.co.uk.” A button next to that text stated “Apply Now”.
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the claims “If you own your home & spend £30 or more on electricity per month you could qualify for solar panels installed under the Eco Solar Fund” and “Homeowners qualify for cutting edge battery storage and solar without having to touch a penny of their hard earned savings” were misleading and could be substantiated; and
2. the ad falsely implied that the marketer was acting for purposes outside its profession.
1. Watts Marketing Ltd said there were three funding or payment options available to consumers, details of which were stated on their website. The first was for free solar panels paid for by the Eco Solar Fund. They said that for the Solar Panel Funding marketing campaign, the Watts Group supplied all of the funds for the installation of the panels. The second option was solar panel funding available through other companies, and Watts Marketing would pass a consumer's details onto the relevant company. The third option involved no funding but did promise savings when consumers purchased solar panels with companies referred to by Watts Marketing. They said consumers who did not qualify for the Eco Solar Fund were offered the option of being transferred to another company, but they did not do that until the consumer had agreed for their enquiry to be transferred.
Watts Marketing said part of the criteria for the advertised offer, called the "Eco Solar Fund", was that customers must own their own property and spend £30 or more on electricity to benefit from the solar panels. They said that for clarity they had changed wording in the ad from "Homeowners" to "Qualifying applicants".
Watts Marketing said that based on the number of applications they had received they estimated that five to ten customers could be eligible to receive funding through the Eco Solar Fund and that the fund was just under £10,000. They said that the details of their solar panel company could be found on Companies House and was part of the Watts group of companies.
Watts Marketing provided a signed, but not dated, document that said they offered assistance to single parent homeowners, who were employed or self-employed with an income of less than £10,000, with disabled or critically ill children. They said the installation partner for the Eco Solar Fund was the largest installer of solar panels in the UK with national coverage for installing solar panels excluding the Isle of Wight.
Watts Marketing provided a redacted letter that they claimed they had sent to a customer who was eligible for the scheme as well as a customer contract which included the criteria of the contract. The contract stated that funding was only eligible to single parents, with a disabled child, with a household income of less than £10,000 per year. It also stated that if the property was sold within five years of installation, the recipient would be liable for full payment of system and installation costs which came to £6,500. It also stated that the surveyor would have final say on where the panels were located.
Watts Marketing provided a survey from 30 customers that reported 17 customers used a "funding facility" to pay for solar panels following contact with Watts Marketing; a signed document that stated that a fund of just under £10,000 pounds existed for the purpose of providing solar panel funding; and two redacted database entries that purported to show which companies installed the solar panels paid for by the fund.
Watts Marketing also provided receipts of payment into an account labelled the Eco Solar Fund and an accountant's letter which stated a "goodwill" fund of £10,604.00 had been set aside by Watts Marketing to provide free home improvements for customers. They said that out of the customers who applied for the Eco Solar Fund, two had qualified as grant eligible, three were still uncontactable, five were not interested and two were offered different options to fund the installation as they did not meet the criteria.
2. Watts Marketing said that Solar Panel Funding was a marketing campaign they had set up that publicised the existence of the Eco Solar Fund. Watts Marketing said that while they themselves were principally a lead generating company they also provided funding through the Eco Solar Fund.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand from the ad that a significant number of those who owned a home, spent over £30 a month on electricity and lived in a qualifying postcode, would qualify for free solar panels through the Eco Solar Fund scheme.
We had not seen the full details and terms of the advertised schemes, such as the qualifying criteria, the products available for free of charge installation, the levels of funding available or the third-party installation partner. Watts Marketing provided a contract agreement relating to the free of charge installation of solar panels to one individual and an accompanying letter to that customer. Although the contract included the details of the funding scheme and made reference to the Eco Solar Fund, it was not signed, the letter to the customer was not dated and no other evidence had been provided to show a significant number of consumers who met the qualifying criteria had received solar panel funding through the Eco Solar Fund.
In any case, we did not consider one successful application constituted sufficient evidence and we had not seen any other evidence to demonstrate that members of the public had received grants or funding. We also did not consider that the survey of 30 consumers or the signed, undated document from Watts Marketing which stated a fund existed were sufficient evidence that a significant number of those who met the advertised criteria were able to take advantage of the Eco Solar Fund. Also, we did not consider that the receipts, the accountant's letter or the redacted database entries could substantiate that.
For those reasons, we concluded that the claims had not been substantiated and were therefore misleading.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The CAP Code required advertisers to ensure that they did not imply they were acting for purposes outside of their profession. We considered that the ad created the impression that solar panels were directly available from the advertiser for those who were eligible.
However, as mentioned above, we did not receive adequate evidence that a significant number of those who met the advertised criteria had received free solar panel funding. In any case, we understood that Watts Marketing were principally a lead generating company that gave consumers’ contact details to solar panel companies for them to them contact.
Because the Facebook post was principally for a lead generating company that provided consumers’ contact details to other companies, rather than a funding scheme, we concluded that the marketer falsely implied that they were acting for purposes outside their profession and therefore breached the Code.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 2.3 2.3 Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context. (Recognition of marketing communications).
The ad must not appear in its current form. We told Watts Marketing Ltd to ensure that future ads did not claim that they provided solar panel funding unless a significant number of those who met the qualifying criteria were able to receive it. We also told them to not imply that they were acting for purposes outside of their profession.