Inside Out: Dodgy solar panel company rises again
The directors of a solar panel company, exposed by BBC Inside Out South West for lying during its sales pitch, have set up another company and are continuing to mislead the public.
Following the BBC One programme in 2006, Floyd Lewis' company Solar Technik, based in Dorset, went bust.
But Mr Lewis wasted no time in setting up a new company. He called it Ultimate Energy PLC and BBC Inside Out South West says it has evidence that salesmen are still misleading their customers about their solar panels.
Tomorrow night's (Friday 22 February, 7.30pm) edition of Inside Out South West investigates Ultimate Energy.
David Stock, sales rep for Ultimate Energy, based in Bournemouth, was secretly filmed by the programme making misleading claims to try and sell a solar system to an undercover journalist in Plymouth. He claimed the solar panels would give a: "40% reduction on fuel bills".
This claim may well go against Ultimate Energy's undertaking with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
Floyd Lewis, former director of bankrupt Solar Technik, now director of Ultimate Energy, was reprimanded by the OFT last summer. He promised neither he nor Ultimate Energy would mislead the public by inflating potential savings on bills or by saying their system would pay for itself.
But, in the course of the presentation, Mr Stock also said that the system would pay for itself two or three times over its lifetime, which also seems to breach Ultimate Energy's undertaking with the OFT.
Energy expert Ian Preston, from the Centre for Sustainable Energy, says: "It is not even going to pay for itself in its lifetime ... to say that it will pay for itself two or three times is just outrageous."
Ian Preston says, in his opinion, the cost of the system would be in the region of £3,500 to £4,000, and was shocked at the initial price given by the salesman to the undercover journalist of £9,650. (A reduction on the initial quote of £9,650 was offered but on condition that the contract was signed within a week).
Inside Out South West also contacted the installer of the Which magazine "best buy" solar panel system, equivalent to that of Ultimate Energy's, and were told that their system could be installed for £4,000.
Dimitri Houtart, series producer for Inside Out South West, says: "After our first programme about Solar Technik, many viewers contacted us to tell us they had bad experiences with the company too.
"All of the creditors of Solar Technik we talked to could not believe that Mr Lewis was allowed to set up a new solar panel company."
Legal expert Gareth Kagan explains: "If the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] has not struck off Mr Lewis as a director, there is nothing stopping him carrying on."
In a statement, Ultimate Energy told Inside Out South West:
"Mr Lewis has been very careful to ensure that his business is run and managed in an appropriate and proper way, and he has fully cooperated with the Office of Fair Trading and the Local Authority's Trading Standards Officers to ensure that his business is run properly.
"The claim that our system will produce a 40% reduction in fuel bills is entirely non-sensical. The claim is quite clearly set out in the publicity material – the system should give a saving of at least 40% in the fuel bill for hot water.
"We make no reference as to whether and when a system will pay for itself, although with rising fuel prices, available government subsidy, council tax reduction, such system could well be as cost effective as this."
Regarding the price they say: "We sell a high quality product installed in a high quality manner. We are satisfied that the prices charged are a proper reflection of the law of supply and demand."
Note to Editors
From the OFT:
The OFT has secured personal undertakings from each of the directors [of Ultimate Energy] that they will not, in the course of business, breach certain consumer protection legislation. In particular, the undertakings broadly state in the future they will not:
- Give the misleading impression or make misrepresentations that products will: provide heating (including background heating) if they will not; reduce a person's fuel, energy, gas, electricity or oil bills or level of usage if they will not; or that people will save money equal to or more than the cost of a product.
Inside Out, Friday 22 February 2008, 7.30pm, BBC One South West