$75,000 fine for profit-driven and illegal electrical advice – Pascoes Maintenance Group Pty Ltd

  • Unqualified employee told to follow a script and manual to upsell electrical work
  • Bonus scheme encouraged sales of electrical safety packages for at least $4,000
  • Vulnerable consumers told their homes and families were unsafe

Pascoes Maintenance Group Pty Ltd has been fined $75,000 for instructing an unqualified employee to assess electrical installations as part of an “upselling” sales strategy that cost vulnerable consumers thousands of dollars.

The Perth company, part of the Pascoe’s Gas, Water and Electrical group, was prosecuted by Building and Energy under WA’s electrical licensing regulations because only a licensed electrician can carry out electrical work. Electrical work includes assessing electrical installations.

During a trial at Armadale Magistrates Court in June, a plumber formerly employed by Pascoes Maintenance Group testified that the company 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 and to tell clients he needed to look at their property’s electrics. He would then identify an apparently non-compliant switchboard, RCDs or earth stake, while referring to recent safety incidents such as a young girl’s serious electric shock in Beldon.

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 Maintenance Group, 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 Beldon 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. “With the information…about how unsafe the electrics were in the house, the girl in Beldon and the fact we needed hot water, we agreed to have the works carried out.”

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 began to think [the plumber] was trying to sell me things I probably didn’t need,” the woman stated. “I’ve had gas fitters, plumbers and electrical contractors work at the property and none of them mentioned the things he was telling me.”

Pascoes was not represented at Armadale Magistrates Court on 17 July 2023 when it was convicted 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.

Magistrate Vivien Edwards said she could “safely assume [the plumber] was not the only employee engaged in upselling safety packages, switchboard upgrades and so on”, meaning the company would have made substantial profits from this illegal practice.

“It clearly made a significant amount of money from this way of doing business,” Her Honour 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.”

A searchable register of licensed electricians is available at dmirs.wa.gov.au.


Media contact: BEmedia@dmirs.wa.gov.au

Previous related media statements:

Building and Energy
Media release
19 Jul 2023

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