ASA ruling to open floodgates for anti-Green Deal claims?
There could be more bad news for the Government’s blighted Green Deal scheme. A new ruling by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) could mean that Green Deal operators face having to hand back tens of thousands of pounds to consumers after the Green Deal Finance Company was found to have mis-sold the cash-saving benefits of the scheme in their advertising literature.
The ASA ruled on three separate issues- marketing claims that the Green Deal payment plans are the cheapest on the market, assurances that the so-called Golden Rule would deliver “peace of mind” with financial savings that were equal to or greater than the costs attached to the energy bill and the failure to publish details of hidden charges, including arrangement and assessment fees, as well as exit penalties.
While the ASA ruling itself does not affect Green Deals already done- it merely requires the offending advertisements be removed or revised- consumer lawyers are warning that the ruling could set a precedent for disgruntled consumers to seek redress for Green Deal mis-selling.
Consumer law solicitor Kerry Gwyther, a partner at leading national law firm TLT, explained that while the ASA ruling does not necessarily mean potential Green Deal mis-selling cases are in the bag, it is often a good starting point for claims of misrepresentation.
“The ASA normally use Trading Standards’ levels of determining misleading claims and its rulings do go a long way in helping to present a successful case. While there is no automatic right of action, the ASA ruling very often means the advertising is in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations that can lead to further action being taken,” he explained.
“A consumer is entitled to take proceedings using Common Law and some parts of the Consumer Protection legislation if, as a result of this ruling, they feel they have been misled into signing up for the Green Deal. If a consumer has been induced to enter into an agreement by misleading claims, a court may well find in the consumer’s favour and they may well be able to walk away from the contract without further payments or seek damages for any losses suffered" he added, sagely.
Advertising law specialist Mike Northern agreed , commenting that consumers would now be able to use the ASA ruling in any future court action, suggesting that “a judge would be influenced to find in favour of an application supported by an ASA adjudication like this.”
The complaint was brought by South East-based Crystal Home Improvements, who were very concerned that consumers were being treated unfairly, and not at all concerned that Green Deal alternatives might be cutting into their profits.
A spokesman for the company told ClickGreen: “We are happy with the ASA decision that confirmed our suspicion that the Green Deal was being mis-sold to consumers. This is not the first time we have successfully challenged the Green Deal and we will continue to highlight the many disadvantages of this poorly run scheme.”
However, before getting too excited, it is important to note that the Green Deal Finance Company itself is a business to business organisation, and the ASA noted that leaflet ruled as misleading was probably not viewed by a vast number of people. Any claims of mis-selling would have to be made as a result of being fraudulently enticed by advertising using similar claims to those outlawed in this ruling.