'He was a con': Pensioner fears losing thousands as building industry warns of dodgy tradies
Jennifer Robinson has lodged a complaint about an unlicensed tradesman. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
An aged pensioner says she was scammed out of thousands of dollars by an unlicensed tradesman and fears she will not see her money again.
Jennifer Robinson, from Rockhampton in central Queensland, said the nightmare began when she asked her plumber to fix a leak in the roof.
He was away, so the plumber recommended another tradesman.
“I trusted in the person that referred me and it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t be licensed because he told me this chap had a lot of experience in roofing,” she said.
Ms Robinson assumed the builder was not registered for GST when he asked to be paid in cash.
“I didn’t think anything more of it, gave him the cash and that was it. I just wanted to get the job done,” she said.
“He was a con and he seemed genuine enough.”
An unlicensed builder attached second-hand materials onto Jennifer Robinson’s old iron roof instead of re-pitching it. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
Ms Robinson paid $2,200 as a deposit — half of what she was quoted for the total cost of the work — and still had a leaky roof.
She lodged a complaint with the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC), which remained ongoing.
The tradie’s work was later removed by a licensed builder.
ABN cancelled, no sign of licence
Ms Robinson said the alarm bells started ringing when the tradesman pulled up in an unmarked sedan and did half a day of work without removing the old roof.
“He told me he was going to re-pitch the roof and all he did was put some second-hand materials over corroded iron, which had to be removed,” she said.
“I would’ve paid to finish the job and it would’ve been totally dodgy.
“It wouldn’t have been covered by any form of insurance and the next lot of heavy rain it would’ve been a major disaster.”
Ms Robinson became suspicious that day and asked for the man’s Australian Business Number (ABN).
“I did a check on the ABN and it had been cancelled six years ago,” she said.
Jennifer Robinson holds photographs of the substandard work that was done by an unlicensed Rockhampton builder. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
“There was no sign of him registered or licensed, I couldn’t find any information about him being a tradesperson legally.”
She immediately contacted her original plumber to tell him she did not want the unlicensed tradesman returning to her home.
Ms Robinson said the original plumber was also planning to lend the dodgy tradesmen his building licence.
“I just couldn’t believe that he could be so naive to do that and you just wonder what does go on,” she said.
“How often does that happen? To turn around and say, ‘Well, they can use my licence’.
“There needs to be an awareness for people that are put in this situation being conned, and also an awareness to the tradespeople of what they can and can’t do.”
Under section 51 of the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) Act, a licensee cannot allow another person to use their licence.
The act states penalties of up to $31,537.50 may apply for the licensee and the person borrowing the licence.
Ms Robinson said she did not believe there was much the QBCC could do to help her.
“He ripped off an aged pensioner whose husband is dying,” she said.
The QBCC said it had spoken to Ms Robinson and would examine all aspects of her complaint, including allegations of unlicensed building activity and licence lending.
A national construction code exists to ensure all building products and materials are compliant.
However, no national building and construction licensing regulator exists to monitor the tradespeople doing the work.
Queensland Master Builders deputy chief executive Paul Bidwell said dodgy tradesmen were rampant across Australia, but due to state-by-state regulations it was difficult to find nationwide figures.
“All states and territories have the same problem, people not being qualified to do what they do, but they wouldn’t be breaking a law because they don’t need to be licensed in all states,” he said.
“It’s harder for action to be taken against them. Until you’ve got a licensing regime, you can’t collect any information.
“We [Queensland] are highly regulated, and the other states and territories aren’t.”
Shoddy operators undercut legitimate businesses
State licensing laws
|State||Regulator||When does a builder need a licence?|
|QLD||QLD Building and Construction Commission||Work valued over $3,300|
|NSW||Department of Fair Trading||Work valued over $5,000|
|VIC||Victorian Building Authority||Work valued over $10,000|
|WA||Western Australian Building Commission||Work valued over $20,000|
|SA||SA Consumer and Business Services||Work valued over $12,000|
|NT||NT Building Practitioners Board||Work valued over $12,000|
|TAS||Department of Justice||Determined by level of risk|
|ACT||Department of Environment & Sustainable Development||If a building approval is required|
Source: State and Territory Government authorities
Despite stringent regulations in Queensland, unlicensed tradespeople continue to complete dubious building work.
Rockhampton builder Matthew Day, who has been in the building and construction industry for more than 25 years, said shoddy contractors had been an issue for a long time.
“They’re coming in saying, ‘We’ll do it for cash, we’ll take the 10 per cent off’ and then they’re doing the job,” he said.
“That sort of work is overall detrimental to our building industry.”
Mr Day said dodgy builders made it difficult for those who were licensed to find jobs.
“When something goes wrong, it gives the whole building industry a bad reputation because then they think that tradie is as bad as the next tradie they’re going to get,” he said.
“[We’re] playing the game with workplace health and safety and everything else that’s required of us these days and then … someone … comes in and beats us by taking the 10 per cent GST off.”
The QBCC investigates complaints made by consumers, contractors, and industry participants.
“The rate of unlicensed activity detected during QBCC compliance audits at Queensland building sites in 2017–2018 was 1.3 per cent, compared to 1.63 per cent in the previous year and 1.66 per cent in the year prior to that,” a QBCC spokesperson said.
Mr Day said although a small decline had been detected, it was hard to understand the full scope of the issue when many were unwilling to report it.
“Even the clients don’t like talking about it because they should’ve never gone down that track and paid cash in the first place,” he said.
“If they get caught doing a cash job, not only does the contractor have to pay all the insurances through the QBCC, as well as copping a 10-demerit-point fine, they then have to go through all the drama of getting audited through the ATO [Australian Taxation Office] to find out what money you’ve declared and what you haven’t.”