Consumers should be careful when purchasing solar systems and batteries, as the equipment can sometimes go wrong.
It is essential to have a detailed and accurate quote, ensure the company responsible for installation is listed in the contract for issues, write down any verbal warranties given by the salesperson, consider using mortgage redraw funds for financing, get all promises in writing, be aware of consumer rights and protections, and check for clauses that allow for brand substitutions or limit warranties.
It is also recommended to check for accreditations and ask for references, research the company and products, and consider purchasing insurance for the system.
Watch out for these unfair business practices in the solar industry!
Sometimes things can go wrong with your solar system, batteries, or equipment. Knowing your rights and being careful BEFORE you purchase the item is essential. Here are some critical must-dos and some unfair business practices to watch out for when purchasing a solar & battery system.
1. Make sure you have an adequately detailed quote. This includes an estimate of your annual solar generation as part of the contract.
You would be surprised how poorly executed some quotes are. On the other hand, how colour-full and page-heavy some quotes are without clearly communicating the essential information
2. Ensure the contract lists the party to contact in case of issues.
It should always be the company that sold and installed the equipment, not any equipment manufacturer. The company that sold the equipment and is responsible for the installation should be the same.
The system installer, by law, should there be an issue, can not gently wiggle out of their after-sales responsibilities and can not simply fob you off to the manufacturer. So insist on service, contact your local State-based consumer boy, and make a written complaint if unsuccessful.
3. If the salesperson gives you verbal warranties about the product, they are valid. And count.
For example, the inverter has a 5-year manufacturer’s warranty. If the salesperson says, “We have installed many of these, and they last at least 10 years”, then you have just scored a 10-year warranty. Make sure you write down any such claim. Also, any facts outlined in the Australian Consumer law override any written manufacturer or installer warranty document. So if the consumer law says the product has to be fit for purpose and at the 1st small windstorm, the glass flies off the solar panel, no solar manufacturer’s written document can wiggle itself out of a replacement obligation.
4. If you finance the solar system, consider using your mortgage redraw funds; they will often have a lower interest rate than the rate of a finance company.
5. Knowing your crucial consumer rights, such as the company that sold you the solar system, can not give you misleading information, so make sure all the critical information is in writing.
Make sure you get all promises in writing. At a later date, it is surprising how sales peoples’ usually excellent memory can fade.
6. If a manufacturer has left Australia or refuses to honour the warranty for other reasons, the solar & battery system installation company (the one you paid them money to) can be asked to step in and provide a remedy instead of the manufacturer.
It’s a fascinating law that ensures installers do not sell cheap crap. But, unfortunately, this has not stopped crap solar; it just means the installer or big sales company closes their door in a case as outlined above.
7. The customer can demand a remedy if the solar products do not meet consumer guarantees, e.g. being fit for purpose.
The correct remedies can include a replacement, a repair, or a refund.
8. Solar sales companies are not allowed to harass you and keep calling, so you buy from them.
You can ask them friendly or sternly to stop calling you; if they do not, you have grounds for a complaint.
9. In the sales process, the salesperson cannot exploit a buyer’s vulnerability.
For example, a fearful potential customer can not be threatened to complete a sale. This is known as unconscionable conduct.
10. Should you have a warranty claim on an inverter or panel, the installation company can not ask you to pay for the labour to remove the equipment.
This cost is to be covered by the manufacturer. However, if you live remotely, manufacturer conditions sometimes ask for a transport contribution.
11. Sometimes, companies swap a good brand panel or inverter for a lower-quality product.
They insert a clause in the contract to give them the right to change brands to similar products. The word “similar” leaves expansive room for interpretation. If you see such a clause in the fine print, cross it out and initial it. Insist on the brand and models you quoted in the 1st place.
12. Accepting payment without planning to supply is an offence.
A solar business would not be allowed to take a deposit for a job if there is a supply issue in the industry and the proprietor is aware that they can not supply the product in the time frame they promised.
They also would not be allowed to supply significantly different materials to the one outlined in the contract. If failure to supply is beyond the business owner’s control, e.g. a ship with panels sank in a storm, then the customer has no claim for compensation due to the delay.
13. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is a place that looks after your rights.
This is an independent Commonwealth statutory authority. It enforces the 2010 Competition and Consumer Act 2010. It aims to increase and promote competition amongst businesses and ensure fair trading conditions for consumers.
The unfair contract terms law covers most terms in standard consumer solar contracts. The ACCC administers this contract. However, words in consumer contracts that set the price of a solar system or define the product details are exempt. An unfair clause is not clear and transparent, designed to mislead or cause the customer damage if implemented.
14. If your electricity bill is less than $250 per three months and you are not home during the day, the benefits of solar might be low.
15. Ask many follow-up questions, write the answers down, date them, and attach the name of the person who supplied the answers.
16. Read the contract, including the fine print, and whatever you do not understand, highlight and ask questions.
17. Find out – if there is a cooling-off period – when you have to change your mind and rescind the sale without any loss of funds.
18. If you have a problem with the solar system or the battery, contact your solar sales & installation company (which should always be the same) directly to try and resolve the issue.
If a subcontractor installs the system, the company that has to assist you is the sales company. Therefore, they are the ones who pocketed your hard-earned funds.
The other side refuses to fix the problem if the matter cannot be resolved. Write a complaint letter with a deadline. After the deadline has expired, if there has been no resolution, then contact your local state-based consumer rights body.
For help, contact:
ACCC, Ph 1300 302 502, website: www.accc.gov.au
NSW – Dep of Fair Trading: ph: 13 3220, website: www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au
Victoria – Consumer Dep ph: 1300 558 181, website: www.consumer.vic.gov.au
Queensland – Dep of Fair Trading ph: 13 7468, website: www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au
Western Australia – ph: 1300 304 054, website: https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/consumer-protection
South Australia – ph: 131 882, website: www.cbs.sa.gov.au
Tasmania – ph 1300 654 499, www.consumer.tas.gov.au
Northern Territory – ph: 1800 019 319 website: www.consumeraffairs.nt.gov.au
ACT (Canberra) – ph: (02) 6207 3000 website: www.ors.act.gov.au
The Clean Energy Council has information regarding complaints and consumer issues here.
In case there is no satisfactory solution you also have the option to go to a local consumer tribunal for meditation or resolution. A small claims court case is another option.
Before you proceed with these options, also account for the time it will take for you to pursue the matter.