Some energy efficiency work shoddy, says OFT

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Media captionOFT's Nisha Arora: "We were concerned by the use of pressure selling tactics"

A review of double glazing, insulation and solar panel installation in the UK has uncovered cases of high pressure sales and shoddy work.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) review also revealed a lack of clarity in paperwork and details of cancellation rights.

The regulator has now written to 50 businesses telling them to ensure they treat customers properly.

The energy efficiency sector recorded total sales of £18bn in 2010-11.

This level of sales is expected to grow, so the OFT wants firms to raise their standards or face enforcement action that could include fines.

"It is important that people can be confident the companies they deal with are complying with the law, and that they are able to make informed purchases, without pressure sales techniques," said Nisha Arora, of the OFT.

Cancellation rights

The rising level of gas and electricity bills means that many people are seeking to improve the energy efficiency of their home to cut costs.

Image caption Having insulation fitted can save households hundreds of pounds on their energy bills

But the OFT is concerned at the number of complaints coming in about companies exploiting these homeowners' wishes, so it is opening an investigation.

An initial review exposed cases of salesmen spending three hours in people's homes, telling potential customers that they would only benefit from discounts if they signed up straight away.

It also found some salesmen made misleading claims about likely savings or failed to give out key information in writing, such as the right to cancel within seven days.

The OFT has outlined some guidance for consumers looking to buy energy efficiency products, some of which have high upfront costs. This includes:

  • Shopping around and taking time over a decision, without being pressured into a "special discount"
  • Double check claims about the suitability of products for a property, eligibility for grants, and estimates of savings on bills
  • Check paperwork and be clear whether a signature is for a quote or a contract
  • Be aware of a right to cancel within seven days when products are bought in the home

Citizen's Advice has information and advice on legal rights if an installation goes wrong.

'Good advice'

Consumer groups said that the introduction of the government's Green Deal scheme meant that consumer protection needed to be ensured.

Under the system, loans are given for home improvements, with the work paying for itself through lower bills.

"The Green Deal is likely to see more consumers looking to invest in energy efficiency measures, so before they proceed, people need to be aware of their rights and how to spot potential pitfalls," said Audrey Gallacher, director of energy at watchdog Consumer Focus.

"It is also important that homeowners get good advice so that can choose what is right for them and their property."

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