A Brisbane woman has been fined a cumulative $18,000 for charging small businesses for training workshops but never providing the service.
Sole proprietor Helen Kathryne Liddle, trading under H.Woods and Associates, was found guilty of eight separate breaches of Australian Consumer Law, following an investigation by the Queensland Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
Liddle was fined $6,000 by Southport Magistrates Court in early May, and a further $8,000 from the Brisbane Magistrates Court in June.
She was also ordered to pay restitutions of $3,199 and $1,048 in the same hearings, respectively.
According to the OFT, between January 2014 and February 2015, Liddle accepted payments from eight different customers in exchange for training workshops, which she entered into agreements to provide.
However, multiple small business owners told the OFT the training workshops were never provided and in each case, employees of the businesses that paid for Liddle’s training services discovered the sessions had been postponed or cancelled when they arrived at the organised venue. They said Liddle then promised to reschedule the training, but did not do so.
The small businesses paid a total of $4,247, and although Liddle eventually offered refunds, the refund payments were also never made according to the OFT.
The website for Liddle’s H.Woods and Associates states the company’s speakers are “recognised as the foremost authorities in their field”.
“H. Woods & Associates abides by a strict code of ethics that looks after the interests of our clients equally,” says the website.
The website also contains more than 15 testimonials attributed to attendees of Liddle’s talks, which claim her talks were “knowledgeable and empowering”.
Brian Bauer, OFT executive director, said in a statement this kind of behaviour “weakened confidence in the marketplace”.
“Shonky businesses cannot expect to get away with failing to provide a service that another small business has paid good money for,” Bauer said.
Andrew Parlour, commercial lawyer at Russell Kennedy Lawyers told SmartCompany while these sorts of situations are not common, they are also not unusual.
Businesses wanting to make sure they do not engage with dodgy services should always do some form of pre-contractual investigation, says Parlour.
“It comes down to doing some pre-contractual investigation before entering into an agreement. Check the internet and some community based forums for positive or negative reviews,” says Parlour.
However, Parlour says there can be legitimate circumstances where a business operator is unable to provide a service if it stretches itself too thin.
“There could be genuine reasons why businesses can’t provide the services they promise. They could expand too quickly, or take on too many contracts and be unable to complete them,” he says.
If a business finds itself having paid for a service and not received it, Parlour says the best course of action is for the business to either pursue its rights for breach of contract or complain to the relevant regulatory authority.
SmartCompany was unable to contact H.Woods and Associates prior to publication.