Shonky Door-To-Door Solar Salespeople Preying On Vulnerable Australians

Unsolicited door-to-door solar power system sales

Image: Consumer Action Law Centre

One of the three “consumer harm hotzones” identified in the Consumer Action Law Centre’s latest report is unfortunately the retail solar power industry.

There are many ethical companies in Australia’s solar industry that tirelessly strive to do the right thing by customers – pre- and post-sale. As in any industry, there are also the incompetent players, cowboys and, well, utter bastards. The comparatively few shonks spoil it for the many good companies and it’s critically important to the industry that the rogues are weeded out.

The Consumer Action Law Centre’s report, “Knock It Off : door-to-door sales and consumer harm in Victoria”, was developed in partnership WEstjustice and Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre to contribute to the policy debate around unsolicited consumer agreements.

Of nineteen case studies in the report, more than half relate to the unsolicited sale of solar panels.

One of the incidents detailed involved a single 72-year-old aged pensioner who was left “shivering and shaking” in his own home by a solar salesperson that wouldn’t take no for an answer. The gentleman felt so pressured, he signed up for a financed system just to get rid of the salesperson.

” Misleading and inappropriate sales of solar panels, including but not limited to vulnerable low-income consumers, has become systemic and requires an urgent, concerted and comprehensive policy response,” states the report.

Solar power systems can be particularly attractive to low-income households as solar has the potential of lowering energy costs – if done right, and is priced reasonably.

One of the issues of great concern mentioned is the frequent provision of so called ‘interest free’ finance to clinch a sale.

“The frequent (in our experience, almost universal) use of ‘interest free’ finance to fund the panels only adds to the obfuscation, and leaves people vulnerable to unjustified mark-ups,” says the report.

The report also notes the energy sector had such a poor history relating to unsolicited sales that major energy retailers voluntarily chose to discontinue the practice in 2013 following significant public backlash.

One of the recommendations in the report is a trial of an ‘opt-in model’, restricting sales to where a potential purchaser intentionally chooses the product or service.

“An industry specific trial of the opt-in model may be useful to test the impact of such a model on both reducing consumer harm, and also the impact it has on legitimate trade. The solar panel industry seems the logical industry in which to conduct such a trial.”

While laws to help better protect vulnerable Australians from predatory door-to-door solar sales behaviour will be helpful, the best defense is knowledge.

SQ blogger Ronald recently published a detailed article on the topic : Door-To-Door Solar Sales: Know Your Rights.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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