UK homeowners trapped by 25-year solar panel contracts

Julie Griffiths* wanted to reduce her carbon footprint by installing solar panels. The cost would have been a prohibitive £12,000, so she signed a deal to lease part of her roof to a solar power company, which would fit the panels for free.

It would pocket the newly introduced feed-in tariffs (FITs) – subsidies paid by the government for the electricity generated. She, meanwhile, would have lower energy bills. At the end of the 25 years, the panels and the tariffs would be hers.

It seemed a win-win situation until recently when she needed to sell the house. Her buyer’s mortgage application was refused because of the lease agreement, which had effectively signed over a large part of the roof to the solar company.

“A clause in the lease allowed us to buy out the panels for a fee to compensate the company for the loss of their FITs,” she says. “We were prepared to do it to be able to sell our house and move on with our lives, but the company had passed the management of the panels on to an agent, who seemed reluctant to let us proceed.”

Eventually, after the Observer intervened, Griffiths was allowed to buy the panels for £20,500, an uncosted sum that she was told was non-negotiable. Not only was this nearly double the price she’d have paid to install the system herself, but she had also missed out on nearly eight years of FITs worth, around £7,300. All in all, the “free” system has left her around £16,000 out of pocket.

* All names have been changed


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