The owner of a solar panel business has been sent to prison for misleading consumers and trading unfairly.
On 2 August 2013 at Bournemouth Crown Court, Floyd Alan Gordon Lewis (aged 36, of no fixed abode), who was trading as ‘Totally Solar’ and ‘Advanced Solar’ from a base in Poole, was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment. He had pleaded guilty to nine offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 at a previous Crown Court hearing on 13 June.
The prosecution was brought by Dorset County Council’s trading standards service after extensive investigations into consumer complaints across Dorset.
Floyd Lewis was the proprietor of the businesses that had been operating from 18 Cortry Close, Branksome Business Centre, Poole. He had pleaded guilty to knowingly or recklessly engaging in unfair commercial practice between 17 March and 31 October 2010 by failing to complete work; not refunding properly cancelled contracts with consumers; his workmen failing to attend at consumers’ homes at agreed times; and ignoring consumer’s legitimate attempts to claim money back. The business no longer trades from Poole and was recently trading from an office in Wimbledon, South West London.
The offences included seven instances where a salesman from Lewis’ firm had told consumers buying solar panel systems about the financial benefits of gaining Government ‘feed-in tariffs’ when the installations were not eligible for these financial incentives, as they were not fitted by qualified staff registered with the Government’s Microregeneration Certification Scheme. A further offence Lewis pleaded guilty to was misleading a consumer in an email by explaining how the consumer would be able to get money back via the Government scheme when that was not possible due to the lack of suitably qualified and registered fitters.
In mitigation for Floyd Lewis, the Court was told that “he knew he had neglected his duty to his customers but that there was no suggestion of dishonesty”. He said he had entered into contracts he genuinely sought to fulfil. He formally apologised to those consumers in the public gallery and he accepted that he had been “reckless, disorganised, employed the wrong staff and not taken full ownership of the problems”.
This case was first brought to court by the trading standards service in April 2012 and, after extensive argument of legal points, the case was committed from the Magistrates’ Court to Bournemouth Crown Court.
In sentencing His Honour Judge Samuel Wiggs told Lewis: “you had shown no regard to the rights of the people who suffered at your hands”.
The offences focused on the experiences of eight consumers’ contracts. No costs order or compensation orders were made given the decision to send Lewis to prison. Two of the eight consumers that provided evidence in support of this prosecution have already obtained County Court Judgements in their favour and one of these has been paid.
Ivan Hancock, trading standards service manager for Dorset County Council, said: “This is one of the most serious breaches of consumer trust trading standards officers have dealt with in Dorset in recent years. It has involved misleading sales pitches, significant losses to the consumers involved and repeated failures by this business to deal with legitimate claims for refunds. Clearly the prison sentence illustrates that unfair trading like this is seen as a serious problem and will be treated as such by the courts.”
Cllr Peter Finney, the county council’s Cabinet member for community services, added: “We take cases like this extremely seriously, and will not hesitate to take action against such rogue traders. We have a duty to protect consumers, and I hope this case sends a strong message out to any other businesses who have a cavalier attitude to their responsibilities.”
For more information on solar panels and other sources of sustainable energy which can be incorporated into homes, businesses and community buildings, go to www.dorsetforyou.com/renewableenergyinfo
Anyone who has concern about goods or services they have purchased should contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06. This is the first point of contact for any consumer complaints requiring investigation by trading standards officers.