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Is First Choice EPC worth the risk?

There has been a storm of protest from both assessors and customers over the business practices of online EPC provider First Choice EPC, and complaints are said to have been made about the organisation to police and Trading Standards.

According to posts on this blog, not only is the panel often failing to pay assessors or produce EPCs, but it is accused of using bullying tactics and threats to try to enforce additional payments, such as ‘cancellation fees’ from customers who, in some cases, say they had simply made an enquiry or asked for a quote – which the firm’s website claims is free.

When the original blog post about all manner of online EPC providers, was checked recently there were 39 comments/posts, of which an overwhelming 90% were critical of First Choice EPC. Of 32 posts from customers 30 out of 32, or 94% were critical. Of the seven posts from assessors, five or 71% were critical, and the other two were from assessors who felt their earnings were safe because customers paid them direct – though we understand from First Choice EPC that that system has been withdrawn for the moment “while we iron out some technical issues”.

The response from the business, signed ‘Mike’ (presumably Michael Cox, the name on emails to assessors and customers), said in relation to assessors complaining they have not been paid: “There is no such thing as non-payment. All invoices are settled in line with the terms of business.”

The email said that customers complaints were either not true or were “fabrications”, and that the business had not received any contact from the police or Trading Standards.

It added: “Negative reviews are a part of any business. We all accept that praise is seldom forthcoming for a job well done. We have completed thousands of EPCs and accept that we won’t be able to please everybody, which is especially true when the customer themselves are to blame.”

These comments are probably not going to satisfy many of the people posting on this site.

One poster said he was pressured into paying £105 with additional fees to what he claimed was one of First Choice EPC’s associated website, and said he didn’t even get an EPC. Many others mentioned attempts to extract a ‘cancellation fee’ from them, in some cases even though First Choice had failed to get anyone to do the EPC.

An aggrieved customer said: “I ordered an EPC from First Choice EPC last week. Haven’t heard a thing from them, despite ringing twice and leaving messages and emailing them three times asking them to contact.

“The girl I spoke to on reception, who’s just paid to take calls, was a little defensive and explained that the girls who take the calls for companies like First Choice EPC are getting quite a few calls from concerned people who paid for the service and heard not a lot.”
First Choice doesn’t appear to be taking phone enquiries any more, since there is no phone number on its website, nor is there an email or mail address or a company name, though there is a contact form.

A couple of posters did say they had had no problems, but the overwhelming majority referred to the panel as a ‘nightmare’ and urged others not to deal with them. One said they should be called ‘Last Choice EPC’.

One assessor who posted made clear that he refuses to work for the panel. He said: “They bombard me with offers of work, same jobs over and over again for weeks on end, but at such ridiculously low fees that I always ignore them. I know of other assessors in the area who do the same, in fact I can’t think of anyone in the area that will work for them.”

Another said: “I am a DEA and have done EPCs for First Choice EPC and they get you to do the EPC then do not pay you. Their address is a cyber space address so there is no way to chase them.”

A poster called Neil wrote: “Can I ask? Has any assessor ever been paid by these rip off merchants after carrying out EPCs for them? I’ve now sent 14 emails and left 7 voicemails and I still haven’t had a response!” As far as we could see, that post didn’t get a response.

A number of posters say they have complained to police or Trading Standards, and at least one person reported obtaining a county court judgement against First Choice EPC, but the address which was on the website, at Maylands Business Centre, Hemel Hempstead, has since been removed.

The website only had a ‘virtual office’ at the council-run centre, and ceased to rent it in mid July. Staff at Maylands say they don’t know where the business is now.
We put all the information in this article to First Choice EPC prior to publication and their full response is given below.

The First Choice EPC response:

“There is no such thing as non payment (of assessors). All invoices are settled in line with the terms of business. I am really surprised that anybody would suggest otherwise. In fact, we have changed the business model recently so assessors are paid direct by the customer on the day of the appointment. However, we have reverted back to the old model whilst we iron out some technical issues. We no longer offer telephone support however emails are responded to.

“This is not true (customers not receiving EPCs) and each case should be looked at on a case by case basis. The reason for the non delivery of an EPC could be as simple as the EPC has been filtered to the recipients spam/junk folder.

“Again, simply not true (customers complaining of being harassed into paying ‘cancellation fees’ when they say they have only made an enquiry or sought a free quote). We do offer a system where the customer can raise a free no obligation quote. The text on the quote page clearly details what will happen in the event they press the ‘confirm order’ button. There is no bullying involved, only the customers free will. I would suggest you speak to some of the assessors who have worked with us and actually adhered to the terms of business before sealing our fate.

“Again an absolute fabrication of the truth (customers complaining of being harassed for other additional fees). It is true that we charge late payment fees and cancellation fees which we are legally entitled to do. We are a business when all is said and done. Cancellation fees are not an alien concept amongst EPC panels.

“The dashboard access charge (£10 to recover an EPC – which customers complain they weren’t told of in advance) is entirely optional and gives the customer 10 year access to their control panel. This is mentioned in the terms and conditions. The EPC is otherwise sent.

“Negative reviews are a part of any business. We all accept that praise is seldom forthcoming for a job well done. We have completed thousands of EPCs and accept that we won’t be able to please everybody, which is especially true when the customer themselves are to blame. You make reference to being reported to the Police and Trading Standards but we are yet to be contacted by either for our comments. I assume you also observed the comments left by assessors who speak out in our defence. It is unclear whether your interests rest with the assessor or the customer.”

Written by Terry Wardle, Editor of Energy Assessor Magazine

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