Four years on from completing the first stage of the tortuous OFT consumer code approval scheme and not before time with complaints mounting over allegedly misleading solar panel advertising, Renewable Energy Assurance has become the first trade body in the energy sector to win the regulator’s seal of approval to its “REAL Assurance Scheme Consumer Code.” Matt Germain reports.
Who: Renewable Energy Assurance Limited ("REAL") and the Office of Fair Trading (the "OFT")
When: November 2011
The Renewable Energy Association affiliated trade body, REAL, has become the first trade body within the energy sector to secure OFT approval for its REAL Assurance Scheme Consumer Code ("REAL Code") under the OFT's Consumer Codes Approval Scheme.
The REAL Code covers the sale, contracting, installation and servicing of small-scale energy generating systems including solar electricity, solar water heating, small-scale wind electricity and ground and air source heat pumps and applies to all of REAL's members.
The key features and benefits of the REAL Code in relation to advertising are:
• Any advertising materials must be legal, decent, honest and truthful, and comply with all relevant legislation including the British Code of Advertising and Sales Promotion and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 ("CPUTR").
• All performance claims, testimonials and claims about savings, financial payback or income in advertisements or sales promotions must be clearly attributed to a reputable source.
• Wherever possible, advertising materials should refer to or use the REAL Code to tell consumers about what the REAL Assurance Scheme offers.
• Members should tell consumers about the REAL Code and about the available guidance to help consumers choose renewable and low carbon small-scale heat and power generators, and provide copies when asked.
• Where performance information is used in advertising, it must comply with the conditions of section 5.3 of the REAL Code which aim to prevent members from 'overselling' energy generators to consumers.
• Any comparisons with other products or companies that members make in their advertising materials must not be deceptive, and must be in line with the comparative advertising rules in the CPUTR.
Why this matters:
This is an important development because, since the introduction of feed in tariffs ("FITs") in Spring 2010, micro-renewable installations in the domestic and residential markets have increased. However, consumer protection in this area seems to have been largely overlooked and it has not kept up with developments as a result of FITs. This has been highlighted recently by the OFT, which raised concerns surrounding the potential for mis-selling of solar panels when it published the findings from its off-grid market study in October 2011. It is likely that, as a result of the REAL Code having been approved by the OFT, professional standards in the sector regarding dealings with consumers will improve.