A 62-year-old Victorian man working as a refrigeration installer has been fined $10,000 by the Dandenong Magistrates’ Court for taking deposits, but failing to do any work.
The court has ordered Neil Turner to also pay $8850 in compensation to three customers from whom he wrongfully took commissions.
In November 2010, Turner took a $4500 deposit to install a cool room at a milk bar in Seaford. On another occasion in August 2011, he agreed to supply and install an air-conditioning unit and conduct maintenance work at a Dandenong North property, and in March 2011, he was paid a $3350 deposit to install a new cool room at a Warburton farm.
In all of these instances Turner did not complete the work and never repaid the money.
The court action commenced following investigations by the Victorian Small Business Commissioner and Consumer Affairs Victoria.
Consumer Affairs Victoria acting director Phil D’Adamo said in a statement the conviction showed Australian Consumer Law protects both individuals and businesses.
“Businesses are protected as consumers where they buy goods and services up to $40,000, provided they are not for resale.
“It is an offence under the Australian Consumer Law to accept payment for goods and services but fail to provide them as promised,” he says.
On top of the court ordered fine and the repayments to the customers, Turner has been ordered to pay $1400 in legal costs.
Consumer Affairs Victoria said between 2011 and 2012, problems with delivery of goods, including non-supply, ranked in the top five complaints generating telephone enquiries.
The consumer protection body was also recently in the news for pursuing discount store Dimmeys for the sale of allegedly unsafe products.
SmartCompany was unable to contact Turner.
Hall and Wilcox partner Sally Scott told SmartCompany for a person or business to accept payment for goods or services and then not supply them carries the potential of a $1.1 million fine for companies or a $220,000 fine for individuals.
“Mr Turner was only fined $10,000. This suggests that the court viewed the offence as a minor one, perhaps with some mitigating factors.
“It seems unusual that Mr Turner only received a small fine, given that the evidence showed three separate contraventions. Ordinarily a business with repeat contraventions receives a higher fine,” she says.
Scott says the court might have taken into account the fact Turner was a small operator.
She says it appears Turner was not able to establish a defence that non-supply was due to circumstances beyond his control.
“The law provides that there can be a contravention even if there is no intention to withhold supply. If Mr Turner contravenes the law again, he should expect a higher fine.”
“It is not clear from the reports whether he took money thinking he could get away with not doing the work… He could have been found liable because he was mistaken (due to an error on his part),” she says.
Scott says businesses or individuals supplying goods or services need to ensure they put in place proper systems to be able to meet supply demands.
“There will be times when a business cannot meet supply due to circumstances beyond their control.”
“If there are factors known to a business that could delay supply, businesses should make this known to consumers at the time of sale or if not known at that time, as soon as possible once the delaying factors are known,” she says.