Gas, plumbing and electrical company convicted for unlicensed electrical work

8 August 2023 | Author: Building and Energy

A Perth gas, plumbing and electrical business has been fined $75,000 for instructing a plumber to assess electrical installations as part of an “upselling” sales strategy that cost vulnerable consumers thousands of dollars. 

Media and social media interest in Building and Energy’s prosecution helped to remind consumers that only licensed electricians can carry out electrical work and assessments.

The case against Pascoes Maintenance Group Pty Ltd went to trial at Armadale Magistrates Court. A plumber formerly employed by the company testified that Pascoes provided him with a “switchboard upgrade manual” and a script to convince plumbing clients that they also needed electrical work. 

The plumber told the court he was instructed to offer a “free safety check” at every plumbing job. He would then identify an apparently non-compliant switchboard, RCDs or earth stake, while referring to recent safety incidents such as a Perth girl’s serious electric shock after touching a garden tap. 

The plumber said Pascoes’ senior management discussed the sales approach for electrical work at meetings and his supervisor reassured him that the practice was okay. 

The company’s bonus structure encouraged upselling, so clients were directed to purchase an electrical “safety package” or a switchboard upgrade for at least $4,000, compared to fixing a leaking tap for $165. The plumber estimated he provided at least 400 quotes during the two years he worked for Pascoes, with 80 per cent of these including electrical upgrades for clients who had contacted the company about plumbing issues.

The Pascoes switchboard manual had photos of switchboards and other electrical equipment that apparently had “regulatory breaches” along with suggested conversations to sell upgrades to clients. A Building and Energy electrical inspector later testified that the alleged breaches described in the manual were factually incorrect and were not legitimate safety concerns. 

Witness statements from three Pascoes clients who dealt with the plumber in April and August 2020 were accepted as evidence during the trial. 

After asking for a check of his rooftop solar hot water system, a 91-year-old widower was told his Maddington home’s switchboard was outdated and unsafe. The plumber quoted $10,880 for the plumbing and electrical work.

“I thought this was an awful lot of money,” stated the elderly man, who has since passed away. “But I agreed as I had no hot water and [the plumber] had told me the switchboard was unsafe.”

The plumber was also called out for a hot water issue in Forrestfield, where an eight-month pregnant woman was caring for her toddler. He quoted $4,500 for the plumbing and electrical work and referred to the Perth girl’s electric shock.

“[He] went on to tell us that the whole switchboard needed to be upgraded and that if our two-year-old daughter put her finger in a power point she could be electrocuted,” she stated. 

Another woman living alone in Maddington was quoted $8,840, of which only $385 was for the hot water system connection she had requested. 

“I’ve had gas fitters, plumbers and electrical contractors work at the property and none of them mentioned the things he was telling me,” the woman stated.

Pascoes was convicted on 17 July 2023 for contravening the Electricity (Licensing) Regulations 1991 by instructing its employee to carry out electrical assessments without holding the required electrical worker licence. 

In addition to the $75,000 fine, Pascoes was ordered to pay $8,203.75 in costs.

“[The business] clearly made a significant amount of money from this way of doing business,” Magistrate Vivien Edwards said, adding that people could be at risk if they are not licensed to deal with electrical installations. “The message needs to be sent to other businesses and corporations that such behaviour will not be tolerated because the lives of the public and employees are put at risk.”

In 2021, the plumber received a $5,000 fine and a spent conviction for related charges. At that time, another magistrate described the activity as “a scam”, “not fair business” and “morally offensive” due to the vulnerable customers.

WA’s Director of Energy Safety, Saj Abdoolakhan, said the significant fine against Pascoes should send a clear message about providing unqualified electrical advice, particularly for financial gain. 

“Electrical assessments by an unlicensed person are illegal and dangerous, and in this case the aim was to scare consumers and exploit their trust to make money,” Mr Abdoolakhan said.

“When engaging a tradesperson, consumers should only take advice from a trusted and appropriately qualified person, as well as seeking out more than one quote for the work even in an emergency. Ask to see their licence.”