The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has accepted informal undertakings from Polaris Solar and ACT Renewable Energy after discovering misleading carbon price claims made by the companies.
The watchdog’s action against the solar panel suppliers comes after the ACCC busted Brumby’s yesterday for making false carbon price claims, but the regulator says it is not going into “overkill” in policing the new tax.
Polaris and ACT Renewable Energy produced and distributed leaflet advertisements to households promoting the sale of solar panels by claiming that electricity prices would increase by 20% due to the introduction of the carbon price alone, and that if this continued, by 2019 electricity prices would increase by over 400%.
The advertisements also represented that the figures were based on independent studies when, in fact, they were based on unverified claims in a newspaper advertisement.
The two firms have some cross-ownership and related directors, which is why the ACCC dealt with them together, as the advertisements in question were almost identical.
ACCC acting chairman Michael Schaper told SmartCompany the watchdog could issue formal and informal undertakings and this was the first undertaking for carbon price issues.
“The fliers said it was all due to the carbon tax and we got a couple of complaints and when we asked ‘Can you back it up?’, unfortunately, in this case, neither firm could give us a reasonable basis for how they had got those figures,” Schaper says.
Schaper acknowledges Polaris and ACT Renewable Energy were lucky to escape a fine, which can be up to $1 million dollars.
“We are not hitting them heavily, as no consumers suffered any financial loss. Two consumers contacted us but neither had suffered a loss and the firm was fully co-operative,” he says.
The ACCC is releasing data next week from its carbon claims hotline but “to date it has not been as large a number as we might have expected,” Schaper says.
“Many of the complaints about businesses we have looked at realised there are no real grounds.
“We are not going into overkill in terms of how we treat them. We take into account businesses who try doing the right thing.
“We understand small businesses are in a difficult position here, so we are trying to help them find their way through.”
Polaris and ACT Renewable Energy cooperated fully with the ACCC, offering to not engage in similar conduct in the future and to ensure all of their directors attend practical training on the Australian Consumer Law.
Schaper says any price rise claims linked to the carbon price had to be truthful and have a reasonable basis.
“Businesses must be careful in relying on unverified statements by third parties, including those made in newspaper articles and advertisements about the impact of the carbon price, as a basis for their claims.”
The ACCC is investigating any alleged misleading claims about the impact of the carbon price that come to its attention, including through the media.