Unscrupulous construction tradespeople who take advantage of the NSW bushfire crisis to charge exorbitant fees risk losing their licenses and will be hit with hefty fines, the New South Wales state government has warned.
Sending out a message to landlords, tradespeople and retailers, state Premier Barry O’Farrell warned that the government would not tolerate price gouging and would come down severely on anyone who engaged in the practice.
The call follows an incident in which a landlord in the Lower Blue Mountains area sought to increase rental charges because "there will be a lot of people who’ve lost their homes looking for temporary accommodation."
“This sort of low act will not be tolerated and I warn people even thinking about it that the NSW Government come after you,” O’Farrell said. “Anyone seeking to cash in on this crisis is a heartless grub. Not only will they named and shamed, they’ll face a fine of up to $220,000 or $1.1 million for corporations.”
O’Farrell’s call comes amid concerns unscrupulous operators will attempt to take advantage of the restoration and recovery effort following the crisis by charging desperate home owners exorbitant prices for emergency home repairs and reconstruction.
Another fear is that the situation will be exploited by travelling con men – unlicensed tradespeople who show up on doorsteps asking for up-front payments in return for repair jobs, often doing incomplete or shoddy work or simply taking the victim’s cash and disappearing.
Such unscrupulous operators often prey on victims of natural disasters whose buildings are in desperate need of work.
Reports of these types of practices emerged in Queensland, for example, following floods earlier this year. Overseas, meanwhile, widespread reports of people turning up on doorsteps in the United States promising to speed up the insurance and/or building permit process and/or asking for large cash deposits emerged following Hurricane Sandy – some even claiming to be Federal Emergency Management Authority employees or workers from relief agencies.
The warning also comes amid more general concerns about unscrupulous operators masquerading as licensed construction contractors targeting home owners who undertake spring renovation work.
O’Farrell said inspectors will be on the ground in fire zones in search of unscrupulous behaviour and that Fair Trade had set up a consumer hotline for consumers to report incidents of price gouging or con men.
He said in addition to the fines, tradespeople engaging in price gouging risked having their license cancelled or revoked.
“We will have no hesitation in going after these people …” he said. “Whether you’re a landlord, tradesman or retailer, don’t try it because it won’t be worth it.”