A Victorian energy installation company that has been fined more than $100,000 for breaching consumer protection laws in South Australia says it will appeal the penalties.
The Adelaide Magistrates Court hit Green Engineering Victoria Pty Ltd with a $106,575 fine for breaching the Australian Consumer Law, Fair Trading Act 1987 and the Plumbers, Gas Fitters and Electricians Act 1995.
However, Green Engineering Victoria says it will be appealing to a higher court to get the fine repealed, with its director Danny Ye telling SmartCompany the situation arose because customers were unhappy when the installation of their solar panels had been delayed due to council approval.
“When you install solar panels, you need to get council approval,” Ye says.
“We take about a $500 deposit but it takes one-and-a-half years to get it installed because of the delay in their approval.”
Ye believes this problem has been unique to South Australia.
“When there is a customer loss, we have given compensation,” says Ye.
According to South Australia’s Consumer Business and Services, Green Engineering Victoria pleaded guilty to 10 charges, including three charges related to door-to-door sales.
“Under Australian consumer laws, [door-to-door] sales are referred to as unsolicited sales,” said acting commissioner for Consumer Affairs Robert Templeton in a statement.
“Representatives of the business did not tell customers of their right to a 10-day cooling-off period, a mandated protection for consumers.”
Rohan Harris, principal at Russell Kennedy Lawyers, told SmartCompany regulations around this kind of sales method can affect businesses in many sectors, from retailers through to energy providers and tradespeople.
“If you’re going to be approaching people by door knocking, there are some additional requirements and restrictions that you need to bare in mind under the Australian Consumer Law,” Harris says.
“If you’re a business operating in multiple states then the ACL applies across the country so you need to be aware of the national laws that apply.”
Green Engineering Victoria was also found to have conducted installations at South Australian homes without the required licence to do electrical work in the state.
The case follows numerous complaints received from consumers about the company, with the state consumer watchdog last year issuing a public warning telling people not to deal with the Victorian-based Green Engineering business.
“These protections – and our licensing system – are in place to help protect consumers and give them greater confidence in the services they buy,” Templeton said in the statement.
Harris says the case highlights the importance of small businesses understanding the regulatory context of regions they work in and taking the necessary steps to ensure they comply with it.
“They need to have compliance training in place so any of their reps or employees that are conducting these types of selling activities are aware of their legal obligations,” he says.
“It’s incumbent on the company itself to make sure its reps and employees are properly equipped to comply. For example, they need to be provided the forms and specific cooling-off notices to give to consumers.”
When it comes to informing consumers about cooling-off rights, Harris says it’s best to tell them both verbally and in writing.
“I’d do both, the law says you have to do it in writing,” he says.
In its statement, Consumer Business and Services said Green Engineering Victoria failed to show up at a series of compulsory conciliation conferences it arranged to help resolve the consumer complaints made against the company.
“By ignoring their legal obligations to attend conciliation conferences, this company has shown contempt for both their customers and the law,” Templeton said.
“This penalty should serve as a clear warning to contractors to play by the rules, or be ready to face the consequences.”
However, Ye denies this and says representatives from Green Engineering Victoria did attend the conciliation meetings.
“We have been sending staff every time and every case has been a problem,” says Ye.
“We think it’s very unfair and we will appeal.”