Following the announcement this week of the UK Government’s new £2bn grant scheme to help homeowners in England with energy-saving home improvements, Trading Standards Scotland is warning Scottish consumers to be wary of misleading energy marketing scams.
Uncertainty about the availability of energy efficiency incentives make it easy for dishonest companies to scam consumers. They say that funding or grants are available for their products, yet ask consumers to pay for the products up front or take out a loan. Consumers are told that they will receive their money back over time but rarely do. They often overinflate their prices and then apply ‘discounts’ which are supposedly equivalent to government grants.
Since the energy grant scheme was announced, Trading Standards officers have already seen evidence of pop-up adverts on social media for windows and doors, offering discounts to Scottish consumers as part of a ‘lockdown bounceback programme’. Clicking on these adverts leads to a web page where consumers are asked to enter their personal details to find out whether they qualify for a discount.
These adverts are designed to collect data and generate leads for companies who engage in misleading marketing. Trading Standards have received several complaints in the last year from consumers who, after responding to similar adverts on social media, were called and subsequently visited by companies who pressured them into signing expensive contracts for products that they did not want or need.
In one case, a customer saw an advert on Facebook promising ‘help to buy windows’. They filled in their details and were called 10 minutes later by a company offering a sales visit. A salesperson arrived at their house at 9pm and quoted £20,000 for 5 windows. After negotiation, the price was eventually dropped to around £8,000, but the customer was told that this offer was only available that night. By this point, it was midnight and the salesperson had been in the customer’s house for over three hours.
The customer eventually agreed to sign a contract in order to get rid of the salesperson, which involved taking out finance, and paid a £200 admin fee. When the customer tried to cancel, they received a series of threatening phone calls before the company eventually accepted the cancellation; however they refused to refund the £200.
Fiona Richardson, Chief Officer of Trading Standards Scotland, said:
“Misleading energy marketing is a priority area for Trading Standards Scotland and we are working to tackle the problem of rogue traders who are exploiting the existence of energy efficiency grants to make misleading marketing claims in relation to products.
“We would like to remind consumers to be wary of cold callers or pop up adverts for energy saving products on social media. Never accept information offered from these sources without doing independent research, particularly if they tell you that there are grants or funding schemes available.
“Before agreeing to have any work done, have an impartial assessment carried out on your home to find out which energy efficiency measures will actually be beneficial to your property. Don’t agree to get an assessment done by a company who cold calls you – they will not be impartial.”
Information about grants available to Scottish consumers can be found through Home Energy Scotland, who also offer free and impartial advice on energy saving measures.
Nuisance calls or scam adverts should be reported to Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000 or through their website: www.consumeradvice.scot.
Find out more on the Energy Marketing Scams page