The Serious Fraud Office has launched a criminal investigation into the Manchester based Solar Group following an Insolvency Service investigation in 2012. The Serious Fraud Office is now appealing for witnesses with any information about Solar Energy Savings Ltd.
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is particularly keen to speak to anyone who entered into a contract with the group for the supply and fitting of domestic solar panels in the north of England or Scotland.
As part of its investigation, the SFO has already executed a number of search warrants at properties in Merseyside, Cheshire and Scotland and arrested six individuals, all relating to the operation of the £50million company.
The initial investigation
Solar Energy Savings Ltd was wound up in 2012 following an investigation by the Insolvency Service. The company, which at its peak was turning over £50million a year, was found to be engaging in illegal selling practices.
The business was involved in the marketing of solar panel systems to the general public. Initially prospective customers would be contacted by telephone. These sales leads would then be passed to a salesperson who would visit the interested parties at home.
It was during these home visits the Insolvency Service said the company engaged in “serious mis-selling practices.” This included “high-pressure sales tactics, misrepresentation and other illegal or irregular sales practices.”
The inquiry’s findings
The Insolvency Service investigation revealed a string of illegal sales practices and improprieties, which included:
- Customers who were duped into believing Solar Energy Savings Ltd was part of a government-backed or officially authorised scheme. They were falsely informed that the scheme attracted discounts of up to 30 percent, which were limited by number and time.
- The solar group’s salespeople consistently overstated the performance of the panels and the likely return on investment they would bring. They also falsely claimed to be the member of a trade body
- Many of the firm’s customers were subjected to a sales pitch which lasted more than two hours. In some cases, customers signed the contracts “merely to get the salespeople to leave their homes.”
- Prospective customers were told the solar panels would be reinstalled free of charge if they moved home. This was not the case.
- Customers were coerced into signing contracts on the guarantee that they would recoup their full purchase price within five years. This scheme was incorrectly said to be underwritten by an international company called Capital Suisse.
- Solar Energy Savings Ltd also failed to maintain adequate accounting records, making it impossible for the investigators to obtain accurate information about sales, customer deposits, cancellations and the true nature of payments made from the business’ account.
Persistent and deliberate flouting of regulations
Speaking in 2012, following the court’s decision to wind-up the company, Scott Crighton, the investigation supervisor, said: “Solar Energy Savings Ltd persistently and deliberately flouted both statutory regulations and industry-standard selling practices in order to generate sales. It also widely-promoted a non-existent scheme in order to induce members of the public into signing a contract.”
Despite not admitting the allegations, Solar Energy Savings Ltd did not object to the winding-up order. It was subsequently wound-up on 26 July by the High Court in Manchester.
The Serious Fraud Office added that anyone coming forward with information in relation to the ongoing criminal investigation would be treated with the “utmost confidentiality”.
If you are concerned about a possible winding up petition against your company; or whether you may have trading wrongfully call 08000 746 757 to speak in confidence to a specialist.
Written by: Mike Smith