Australia

'Misleading' tactics used to sell solar panels to the vulnerable: report

The Consumer Action Law Centre says elderly and Aboriginal Victorians are falling victim to dodgy door-to-door solar panel salespeople.

Concerns have been raised that elderly and Aboriginal Victorians are being ripped off, with 'aggressive' and 'misleading' tactics used to sell them solar panels.

The Consumer Action Law Centre is demanding stronger protections after finding dodgy door-knockers are engaging in confusing, high-pressure, deceptive tactics to coerce residents into buying the panels.

The centre's report, Knock It off! Door-to-door Sales and Consumer Harm in Victoria, found in one case, an elderly man was left "shaking and shivering" after the salesperson refused to leave without signing him up to a 12-panel solar system worth more than $8500.

Senior policy officer at the centre Zac Gillam told SBS News door-to-door salespeople have vulnerable households in their sights. 

"Often they will stay in the home for a long time. Solar panels are a confusing product," he said.

"They are a highly technical product. They will make really over-the-top promises like 'you will never pay an energy bill again' and they really suck the consumer in.

"We do see door-to-door salespeople targeting housing commission flats... remote communities in regional Australia get targeted quite often and definitely there is certainly a profiling and targeting activity that goes on."

More than half of the case studies examined by the centre involve unsolicited solar panel sales.

Darren Gladman from the Clean Energy Council said it's an issue that concerns the organisation.

The increasing number of consumers getting caught out has prompted calls for better protection to the vulnerable from the law.

Currently, customers get a ten-day cooling off period in which they can change their mind about a contract they've entered into.

But veteran consumer advocate Denis Nelthorpe - chief executive officer of the WEstjustice network, which provides free legal help to people in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, said consumers should be given time to consider the offer before signing up in the first place.

"It should be opt-in and there should be a significant period of time where the consumer or the homeowner can go away and ask various people for advice about whether it is a good idea," Mr Nelthorpe said. 

And it's not just an issue in towns and cities.

Such is the problem with door-to-door salespeople in some northern Indigenous communities, they display prominent "do not knock" warnings to traders.

His story features in a report by the centre, along with a litany of cases in which customers have been misled into signing contracts on-the-spot.

-With AAP