Any solar installer who has been operating in NSW for more then a little while will know that the Office of Fair Trading requires solar installers to meet the requirements of the Home Building Act.
The act is pretty straightforward in requiring licences for electrical work, using Approved Service Providers for metering and Accredited Solar installers for rebates or FIT’s.
However, historically the OFT has been fairly lenient regarding the Contractor and Home Warranty Insurance requirement’s for solar installers. I personally remember a lot of debate around the issues stretching back to 2006.
The general consensus was that full compliance was technically required but the OFT was unlikely to enforce it and tended to leave it to the discretion of Local Government or, would enforce it if matters were brought to their attention; which they weren’t.
However, over the last year or so, compliance checks and enforcement has increased dramatically at a State and Federal level and PV retailers should be on notice; if you aren’t compliant you need to get compliant.
In fact, I’ll go one step further and say if you don’t know what you need to be compliant with, you better find out fast; ignorance of the rules will not save you and you could find your self unable to trade (legally) in a flash if you arent careful.
Today I had a call from an installer who had unfortunately missed this subtlety in the legislation.
He is a pretty typical, well motivated guy with a small company focused on the marketing and sales of good quality PV systems. He subcontracts the installation to an accredited and licensed electrical contractor, unaware that as a company, he was required to a)have a contractor (building or electrical) on staff or, a licence attached to the business, and b)offer home warranty insurance on jobs on excess of $20,000 (recently changed from $12,000).
He was effectively warned that what he was doing was illegal and had to cease trading or fix it.
The act provides for big fines and notes (in no uncertain terms) that it is illegal to not provide Home Warranty Insurance.
The rules vary by State and I recall from experience that trying to operate a National business complicates things even more because of this. But as a legal advisor said to me some years ago “Its a ticket to the game, you have to know you need a ticket and accept the terms and conditions or you just shouldn’t play”.
This is related to the the issue of Principle Contractor law, also a grey area for many.
The simple rule is if you are issuing the invoice you are the Principle Contractor in law; you are the one entering a contract and the buck stops with you in many ways.
OH&S compliance is up to you; if an apprentice of a subcontractor injures them self, you are ultimately responsible. Or if your subcontractor’s accreditation has expired, you are liable.
Compliance with State and Federal laws and legislation is up to you; if you don’t have Home Warranty Insurance or comply with the new Consumer Law you are liable.
Ensuring products are safe and compliant is up to you; if you unwittingly accept products that are not compliant with C Tick, Australian Standards and in most cases approved by the Clean Energy Council, you are liable.
And so on.
There is good news in all of this though, I believe.
The good news is, by spending some time getting up to date and understanding your obligations, your business will be more secure in the long term.
And by marketing your compliance, you can justify a premium and plant a seed of doubt in consumers minds about competitors who don’t offer it up or don’t understand what is required.
And by working hard to be compliant and stay up to date you will have to think harder about the legality, safety and ramifications of what you – and your colleagues do – ever day, and that’s a good thing.
In days gone by, the argument that “none of my competitors comply and there is no enforcement on them to comply so it will make me uncompetitive if I do” was often used.
Today, its is being enforced and compliance can be a competitive opportunity.