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You hear a lot of sad stories about people who have been disappointed or ripped off by suppliers and tradesmen

YOU hear a lot of sad stories about people who have been disappointed or ripped off by suppliers and tradesmen. Internet forums are full of people searching for help having found themselves in difficult situations.

While any supplier or tradesperson has a moral duty of care, there is no doubt that, in many instances, the unfortunate situation could have been avoided if the client himself had just taken a little more time.

In a similar vein, there are also many good suppliers and tradesmen who have been let down by their clients: not paid, paid late, or with unreasonable demands placed on them.

It is a two-way street. In our business, it is difficult to be precise at times as to the efficiency and performance of many eco-products.

They are weather-dependant and ultimately the demands that the client will make on a system cannot be fully known.

However, anyone involved with solar power, in particular, should know this, and the supplier should make it quite clear as to what can be expected and what cannot.

So before you spend your hard-earned euros, some research and a few basic checks are highly recommended.

To give one example, I have never once been asked for my carte professionnelle, which still sits idly in the company van.

This card is issued by the chambres de métiers to many artisans and gives the company name and status, address, activity and the siren, the company’s business number.

Armed with the nine-digit siren. it is easy to find out some basic information free of charge at www.infogreffe.fr, which is available in both English and French.

Typing in the siren will give you the company’s trade name, address, NAF code (activity type) and business status.

I recently checked out one so-called solar power company using this site and found they were in fact registered as general builders.

There is no doubt that many companies have jumped on to the eco-product bandwagon and I don’t suppose any would say they were incompetent.

Last year, EcoPower carried out repairs or modifications to nine systems installed by other companies that had either been incorrectly installed, designed wrongly or using the wrong specifications (in one case, all three).

Insurance is obligatory for many types of work in France. Does your supplier or tradesman have any?

References are rarely taken up, but are frequently advertised. We have all seen things like: “Very pleased: Bob, from France”, but anyone could have written that. At the very least, a few photographs of previous work would not go amiss.

Profit is not a dirty word. Anyone whose profit is limited will probably not be in business for very long; you might have got a cheap price to begin with, but how long do you want these products to last and are you sure your supplier will still be there in five or 10 years’ time?

Take the time to compare what is available on the market: a high-quality product will speak for itself. To qualify for tax credits, all products have to meet certain performance levels and approvals, such as the solar keymark. Check your supplier’s products have these.

However, this should not be taken as a guarantee of quality. You owe it to yourself to learn about the technology you are buying into.

A little knowledge might be a dangerous thing, but at least you may be able to ask some searching questions.

You should at least get an indication as to whether your supplier knows what he or she is talking about. Many suppliers of solar thermal panels would fail this test.

Lastly, you must obtain a formal written devis (quote) from your intended supplier before proceeding and equally a formal facture (invoice).

The facture should be in French, but, if needed a, helpful supplier should also give you a copy in English.

This column is written by Marc Asker, the head of EcoPower, a renewable energies company which he set up in 2007. He has been involved in the industry since 2003

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