ELECSA provides its thoughts on the Which? report on solar PV mis-selling

If ELECSA had its own van bumper sticker for its circa 7,000 approved contractors it would read, Electricians do it with the lights on

Acquired by ECA as its certification brand for Part P in 2007, ELECSA offers a service for electricians run by electricians which means that it does everything visibly, transparently and proudly, according to certification director for ECA Chris Beedel.

Beedel reflects upon the recent controversy surrounding the Which? report on the mis-selling of solar PV where the consumer watchdog had shone an unfavourable light upon bad industry practice.

“The Which?  report also did the industry a favour by revealing some flaws in the calculation methods required of MCS contractors.  As a result, the industry is now working to correct the methodology involved. Basically, it’s an example where organisations such as ELECSA demonstrate that we are listening and responding positively to market and customer needs,” Beedel said.

ELECSA started offering MCS accreditation in 2009 and there are several hundred contractors who are now taking advantage of the scheme benefits.

With more members joining every day, Beedel’s own view is unequivocal: Contractors are at the forefront of new electrical technology including microgeneration. This means making sure the information they provide is accurate and relevant to a householder’s individual property and, most importantly does not oversell the potential of the technology in order to make a quick sale.

And he does not shy away from the ultimate sanction for any rogue contractors within the organisation.

“There is no room within the ELECSA family for contractors who knowing the rigorous process and protocols of surveying and calculating the generation potential of new microgeneration technologies, decide to be economical with the truth in terms of what it is capable of in order to make a sale.”

“All our processes are transparent and in place to make the contractor’s job easier so that he or she can do an excellent job for their customers. Many registrants are sole traders who have built their own brand in their own town and they are not going to risk damaging that reputation by making false claims.”

“Both our Part P and MCS schemes are UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) accredited which means that contractors can be assured that they are treated fairly and objectively.  Everything we do from how we communicate our prices, process applications and conduct the assessment is checked by an independent third party to make sure we are following our own processes and meeting international accreditation standards,” he said.

“Because we are owned by contractors we understand their position which is why we offer a down to earth, friendly service and constantly evolve our offering to suit market conditions, An example of this would be our flexible payment systems. We were the first to introduce it and have a number of options to suit circumstances of the contractor in line with the economic climate.”

“We have a duty to the contractor and the industry. We work collaboratively with other industry partners to improve industry standards and share best practice for the benefit of all contractors.  We also work at a strategic level to provide a link between industry and government to advise and report on issues affecting contractors.”

“Likewise, we take an active role in the development of technical standards and to advise contractors on interpretation and application of those standards,” he added.

Our growing approved contractor base is proof that this industry watching and listening role is working, said Beedel.

“Contractors recognise that Part P and MCS accreditation helps them to demonstrate their credentials to undertake certain works to their customers. With Part P contractors gain a simple way of informing local authorities of notifiable work which is saving their customers time, hassle and money by not having to do this themselves.  In terms of MCS, contractors can enable their customers get access to financial incentives (RHI, FIT). It is a win-win relationship.”

Registration provides contractors with a source of support (important particularly for the large number of micro and small businesses involved in contracting), while larger businesses get a professional and credible organisation that can work with their business to get a customised approach to suit them and their operations.
ELECSA’s Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) for contractors installing renewable technologies in domestic properties has already demonstrated its primary aim of providing consumers with confidence and protection, by assuring them that the installers carrying out the work are competent to do so and meet robust quality standards.

Beedel said: “The Which? report lifted the lid on some practices that none of us want to see in our industry because it undermines public confidence. Those accredited to MCS are bound by an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) regulated code of practice which means they should give accurate assessments as to the estimate of performance output of any system.  However the Which! report did highlight some improvements to the required calculation methods to which the industry has responded positively and is working hard to introduce.”

The OFT code is currently operated by REAL (Renewable Energy Assurance Ltd) Assurance Scheme which provides the guiding principles for selling smaller-scale low carbon renewable technology in people’s homes and is a requirement for MCS accreditation that it is complied with.

The REAL Assurance Scheme stresses that its members must not over-sell energy generating equipment to consumers and that before a sale is agreed they must provide customers with technical assurances and provide a credible estimate in line with MCS standards, as well as present the estimate in writing.

The code stringently governs the ‘Behaviour of Sales Representatives’ and stresses what performance information members must include in their estimates to customers, which must be provided in a format that is readily understandable by consumers and that comparisons for non-experts should be provided.

“To avoid over-selling, members are advised to err on the side of caution when giving estimates.”

Each year, REAL audits a third of its members to check they are complying and it also sends consumer satisfaction surveys to a third of MCS contractors for their customers to complete. Like WHICH!, it also uses mystery shoppers to inspect one in 10 of its members and randomly checks companies’ compliance.  REAL has a stringent complaints process and ‘names and shames’ companies guilty of high pressure selling on its website.

“There is simply no-where to hide as MCS contractors are regularly audited and non -compliance will be subject to a full investigation.  This could lead to suspension of membership from the REAL code and therefore their MCS accreditation,” adds Beedel.

“The MCS is a means of providing the public with the confidence that the advice on their property and installation is accurate and in their best interests. Professional reputation as a contractor depends upon it because the majority of contractors are small to medium sized enterprises working in small towns and cities. To become associated with bad practice would be professional suicide.”

“Any contractor should carry out a full survey before coming back to the householder with the best solution for the technology being installed.  This allows a cooling off period and for the customer to make a decision based upon facts and finances. For this reason, consumers should always check that the installer is MCS registered which means he or she is assured that the competency of the installer has been assessed,” says Beedel.

MCS accreditation will make it easy for installers to identify good quality microgeneration products and services in a rapidly growing market where more than 25,000 homes switched to solar PV last year, a figure that looks likely to be dwarfed by the end of 2011.

Beedel concludes: “Many consumers stand to gain from the Government’s FiT scheme and this summer it released more microgeneration financial incentives in the form of assistance to install renewable energy heat generation technology which will also increase the microgeneration take-up.

“It is therefore a shame that a minority of companies can give the sector a bad name. The Government has set ambitious targets to reduce fossil fuel use and in its latest review has made householders the primary focus of the cash on offer in order that more make the right choice and the right switch. They will only do this however if they can have faith in the people and products they are investing in.”

Beedel is proud of the ELECSA offer and, like the bumper sticker, wants the organisation stand as a beacon ready to shine a light on the best practice in the industry.

The REAL Assurance Scheme http://www.realassurance.org.uk/pdf/consumer-code.pdf