Why do all solar retailers need to be part of the Clean Energy Council’s Retailer Code of Conduct?

Solar Victoria is committed to ensuring people taking part in the Solar Homes program get quality service from the state’s fast-growing solar sector. Achieving this will also instill community confidence in the industry.

Solar Victoria wants to ensure only reputable retailers take part in the program it manages using public money on behalf of the Victorian Government.

For many consumers, solar is a complex and new product. Determining whether what they are being offered is fit-for-purpose, and whether the price reflects the product’s quality is challenging and puts them at risk from unscrupulous operators.

Victoria already has a range of consumer laws to help protect people from misleading and deceptive conduct, unconscionable behaviour and contracts, as well as pressure tactics, however gaps remain.

Requiring commitment to the CEC’s Solar Retailer Code of Conduct will not eliminate the risks posed by phoenix companies, inaccurate or misleading advertising or low-quality systems, but it will help raise standards across the industry, give consumers provide greater confidence and make it harder for unscrupulous companies to operate.

Introducing this mandatory requirement for solar retailers will reinforce other consumer protections which can be applied after work is done or in the event of a problem with the installation, workmanship or warranties.

Requiring retailers to become signatories of the Clean Energy Council (CEC) Solar Retailer Code of Conduct (or equivalent) will push the industry to improve customer service, establish a level playing field and reduce consumer risk.

The same requirement is currently in place for similar programs in Queensland and South Australia.

Lifting standards will add to the work already being done with industry regulators including Energy Safe Victoria, WorkSafe, the Victorian Building Authority, Essential Services Commission and Consumer Affairs Victoria.

What does the CEC’s Retailers Code of Conduct cover?

The Code requires solar retailers to ensure they, their sales staff, other employees, and installers to commit to high standards.

Mandating solar providers to become signatories to the CEC’s Solar Retailer Code of Conduct will:

  • support consumers to get a better service, help protected them from unscrupulous conduct and reduce poor performance by companies, and
  • help the industry grow in quality and status and ensure all in the industry understand what is required of them,
  • give customers a minimum 5-year warranty and require retailers to oversee all stages of the installation and post-installation service.

Why the Clean Energy Council’s Solar Retailer Code of Conduct?

At this time, only the Clean Energy Council’s Solar Retailer Code of Conduct is considered suitably comprehensive. This code has been in place since 2013, and was re-authorised by the ACCC in 2015. The CEC publishes the results of its investigations into breaches of its retailers Code.

Alternative existing codes were reviewed however, these were considered inadequate at this time.

This does not mean Solar Victoria will not accept alternative codes in the future. Other codes may also be considered however they must promote high standards, consumer protection, an enforcement mechanism to ensure the process is robust and be approved by the ACCC.

What consultation has there been in determining the need for a mandated Code?

In considering the need for a higher level of protection for consumers, Solar Victoria spoke with a number of industry representatives and other agencies including Consumer Affairs Victoria. An industry round-table including representatives of firms of various sizes, held in late 2018, looked at the issue and was generally supportive.

There are already significant protections for consumers. Why do we need this?

Some say existing consumer protections are adequate, however most these protections are for work done and only enable action after the event.

By acting before a sale is made, and to ensure high standards are in place, we aim to reduce risk. The capacity to take action later can be limited, particularly if a company has ceased trading.

What happens if there is an issue with a CEC’s Solar Retailer Code of Conduct signatory?

Consumers and retailers are strongly encouraged to try and resolve issues in the first instance, however if this is not possible the matter can be referred to the CEC’s Code Administrator, who will investigate potential breaches and contact the signatory in writing, with details of the alleged breach.

The Code Administrator may allocate a sanction or a recommended a course of action to the Code Review Panel for consideration. The Panel will determine if a breach has occurred and any subsequent action. Code Review Panel decisions are binding.

Full details of this process are in the Retailers Code of Conduct.

I’m a CEC accredited installer and am already bound by the Installers Code of Conduct, but I’m also a retailer. Do I have to sign-up to both?

Yes. The Solar Retailer Code of Conduct covers different responsibilities and obligations.

To sell solar panels and systems and take part in the Solar Homes program, you must become a CEC accredited Solar Retailer by 1 November 2019, unless you have been identified as a high-volume retailer in the Solar Homes program, in which case you must become a signatory by 1 July 2019.

What does it cost to join the program?

Solar retailers need to apply to the CEC. There is a non-refundable application fee of $200.

Applications from franchisees will be charged $100 per franchisee. The minimum annual fee payable is $600 and the maximum is $6000, depending on your annual volume of installations.

Won’t this push up prices for consumers?

There is a cost which helps to cover the cost of running the program, however it is only a requirement for those taking part in the Solar Homes program which is generating an enormous amount of work across the solar installation industry.

It will also help commercial customers – a growing part of the industry – to have more confidence in the people they deal with.

I’m a solar retailer. How do I know whether I have to become a signatory by 1 July 2019 or 1 November 2019?

Solar Victoria is requiring the solar providers which are most active in the Solar Homes program to become signatories by 1 July 2019, with all other providers given until 1 November 2019.

If you are an active solar provider, Solar Victoria will contact you to inform you of the 1 July requirement. If not, you will have until 1 November 2019 to sign up.

What else is Solar Victoria doing to protect consumers?

The Solar Retailer Code of Conduct is part of a suite of measures being undertaken by Solar Victoria. This includes safety inspections as installations are going on, post-installation audits and a multi-agency enforcement group (which includes the CEC) where issues are discussed and action planned.

Agencies like WorkSafe, Energy Safe and Consumer Affairs Victoria each have their own legislation through which action can be taken. Communication activity to promote the need for high standards is also carried out.

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