Just the thought of having dishonest people out there that are eagerly waiting to take advantage of honest and hardworking folks is disturbing. Homeowners beware! Read to the end.
With every storm season comes the genuine, and the bogus tradespeople that dupe unsuspecting homeowners. When property is damaged during a thunderstorm, vulnerable homeowners become a target for dodgy service providers who exploit and make some quick bucks.
Armed with this knowledge, it’s worth noting that sifting through rubbles of legitimate operators to find the right one for you is a no walk in the park.
However, you can find reliable advice and information from a licensed professional like Insurance Claims Group (ICG) or regulatory bodies such as ASIC, ACCC, QBCC or APRA—but this depends on the nature of damage.
What to do if approached directly or through advertising
Confirm that the company is duly licensed in Australia or overseas, and that you’re not dealing with an imposter.
Expect to be approached by mostly building companies or roofing contractors.
Consider this scenario:
A hail storm batters your suburb leaving behind a trail of visible damage. The next thing to expect is a mailbox full of adverts from providers offering free damage inspection and claims filing and handling services.
Despite this seemingly being authentic and in good interest of homeowners in the affected suburb, the company may fail to meet all the legal obligations required to offer such services.
The most important checks to make here include:
- Is the company’s AFSL number stated clearly on the website or advertisement?
- For the case of a builder or roofing contractor, is their QBCC license number stated clearly on the advert or website?
- If the company purports to inspect specialised and technical areas like plumbing, electrical or solar installations, are they licensed to offer these services by a regulatory body say the Clean Energy Council in case it offers solar installation?
- Which service(s) do they claim to offer or specialise in?
Here’s what I am trying to explain…
ASIC AFSL License Search
Legally, every Australian financial services company must have an AFS license in order to operate in Australia. This is also expected of overseas companies operating in Australia. Click the ASIC Connect’ s Professional Registers to check if your company of choice is duly licensed.
During the search, select ‘Australian Financial Services Licensee’ and the ‘Australian Financial Services Authorised Representative’.
If your preferred service provider is not licensed, don’t contact them. In fact, report them to ASIC.
For more advice on the claims handling companies to consider, check out moneysmart.gov.au.
Builders Licensing And Regulatory Watchdog
The Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) has always urged homeowners to only hire licensed trades people when it comes to repairing any property damaged by storms that are common in Queensland.
Builders and trades people licensed by QBCC can be found using the QBCC online license search tool.
A quick lookup will show the class of building license, weather it is active or not, trading names, ABN and ACN and the MR category.
Clean Energy Council and Authorised Solar Professionals
Solar energy is a sector regulated by the Clean Energy Council of Australia. The Queensland Government website advises Aussies to “Only use an appropriately qualified professional, such as a licensed electrician or a Clean Energy Council accredited solar panel installer, to perform close-quarters inspections of your system or going onto your roof.”
In this age and time, it’s no longer unusual for individuals and companies that offer free solar system inspections to approach homeowners with their ultimate intention being to check for a storm damaged roof.
Normally, a professional licensed and accredited solar installation companies intentions are genuine and therefore a rooftop solar assessment shouldn’t lead to other services such as major repairs or insurance claims filing and or handling.
When it gets to this point, search the Clean Energy Council website to confirm if the service provider is licensed.
Australian Business Register ABN Lookup
The Australian Business Number (ABN) search register enables Australians to quickly and easily search ABNs using the ABN Lookup online tool.
The search results will reveal where the business is registered, whether it’s registered with GST as well as the type of business it operates.
What You Should Do When You Can’t Find The Required Licenses or Registration Information
Trust your instincts – In most cases you can spot a dodgy operator from a mile away however it’s 2022 and smarter Always trust your guts on this one. More often than not, you will always sense a dodgy operator from afar, however, scammers have taken their game a notch higher thanks to modern techniques they use to fool their targets. Hence, when your instincts point to something not being right, pause and watch out—there are good chances that it’s truly not.
When you should raise the alarm:
IIf you, your family, friends and neighbours haven’t heard of the company.
- When they ask for a down payment for services.
- No trace of their advertisement anywhere—google, yellow pages or facebook.
- They have listed their address as a PO box.
- Their charges are too good to be true.
- No display of their license number.
- Have no financial service guide.
Let’s Consider a Real Example in 2022
This illustration is based on a letter that was recently widely distributed across a suburb in north Brisbane that was severely hit by a hailstorm. From the outlook, the letter seems genuine and the operator appears to be offering legitimate services.
But after a closer look, there are several red flags that need further investigation.
- Solar Panels – According to the letter ‘Solar hot water system and solar panels need to be inspected to ascertain if there is any damage’
After searching for this companies license with the Clean Energy Council, it was obvious that the company was not a licensed solar company. Hence, the fact that the company purports to offer solar panel related services is alarming.
From here, I thought that I should at least check the Electrical Licence Register too. An electrical contractor should be capable of conducting an inspection on a solar panel system.
- Insurance Claim – In the letter, the company notes that it ‘will assist you with your insurance claim lodgement right through to the repairs at zero cost to yourself, as this type of damage will be covered by your insurance policy’.
With the advertisement bearing no AFSL license details, we used the ABN number provided at the bottom of the advert to validate the business name and used the Australian Business Register’s search tool to confirm its registration. With the results, we did a quick AFSL lookup via ASIC online register. We went further to search for the company’s website to try and get the missing information including a financial services guide. This proved impossible. Ultimately, we were unable to get the AFSL for the business that purports to offer insurance claims handling services.
- Licensed Builder – Considering that the letter is obviously from a building company, we expected the company to have a current QBCC license. Having said this, we must emphasise the importance of conducting due diligence before engaging a service provider. And guess what, the search results revealed that the company is an approved builder situated in the Widebay Burnett region yet they are out of town.
It’s so obvious that the company in question has failed to meet the general obligations that came into effect from 1st of January 2022.