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Investigation steps up after stair install fail

A Gold Coast stair supplier has been fined a total of $35,000 and ordered to pay over $9,000 in compensation to a consumer after being taken to court by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for taking payment to supply a flight of stairs but failing to deliver.

James Bruce Michael Darren Brown, the sole director of SMC Stair Supplies Pty Ltd, did not attend court but he and his company were found guilty of breaching the Australian Consumer Law in the Southport Magistrates Court on 9 May 2022.

Mr Brown was fined $15,000 and ordered to pay $9,395 in compensation, and his company SMC Stair Supplies Pty Ltd was fined $20,000. A conviction was recorded.

The court heard that in November 2020 Mr Brown quoted a consumer $8,895 for the supply of a flight of stairs. Between November 2020 and February 2021, the consumer paid the total amount to Mr Brown.

In March 2021, Mr Brown sent a tax invoice to the consumer for an additional $981 which was not part of the initial quote. The consumer paid a further $500, bringing the total amount to $9,395, for the supply of the stairs.

Over several months the consumer made multiple attempts to contact Mr Brown to chase up delivery, and each time was advised that the stairs would be delivered in two weeks’ time.

After another few months passed the consumer requested a full refund, which Mr Brown agreed to pay back in weekly payments, but this was never done.

Commissioner for Fair Trading Victoria Thomson said traders must not quote to supply products and accept payment for them if they are not able to deliver when they say they will or, if no date is given, within a reasonable time.

“Consumers can take steps to protect themselves by not paying large amounts up front,” Ms Thomson said.

“If you are asked to pay a large amount upfront this should be a red flag.

“Ask the business if they will accept a deposit, progress payments, and the remainder on delivery, that way if the goods do not arrive you are not left severely out of pocket.

“The OFT will continue to take up issues for consumers who do not receive what they have paid for.”

The OFT is also reminding consumers they can take some simple steps to help protect themselves when they are considering large purchases.

  • Research the trader, ask family and friends for recommendations, when manufacture or construction is involved ask the trader for examples of their work that you can visit and view and discuss with the owners.
  • When any type of construction is involved check whether the trader has a licence with the Queensland Building and Construction Commission. The search is available free, online, at www.qbcc.qld.gov.au
  • Don’t pay large amounts of money upfront. Requests for large upfront payments should be a red flag. Consumers can request to pay a deposit, then amounts as the work progresses, with the remainder on delivery.  When construction work is involved the QBCC sets out the amounts which should be paid at each point in the process.
  • Consider whether making payments by credit card might give you extra protection.  Some credit cards allow customers to apply for a fee reversal when goods are not received. Consumers should talk to their financial service provider to see if their credit card offers this protection.

If consumers have paid for goods or services they have not received, they should raise the issue with the trader. If they are unable to resolve the issue with the business, they are encouraged to make a complaint to the OFT either online at www.qld.gov.au/fairtrading, or by calling 13 QGOV (13 74 68).