Unlicensed electrical contractors feel the heat from the Council

17/07/2010 12:29

The Consumer Council of Fiji wants a control on unlicensed electricians and this includes banning all advertisements from these unlicensed operators in the Yellow Pages of the Fiji Directories and other mediums such as the newspapers.  The Council believes that these advertisements mislead consumers to unknowingly engage the services of unlicensed electrical contractors posing fire safety hazards and high level risks to consumers.     

The above concern comes amid increasing number of fires linked to incorrectly installed wiring and electrical faults. In 2009, the National Fire Authority (NFA) recorded 228 homes fires out of which 80 were caused by electrical faults including incorrectly installed wiring. From January to June 2010 NFA has recorded 95 home fires and out of this 40 were because of electrical faults including incorrectly installed wiring.

Concerned with consumer complaints on improper electrical wiring and electrical services, particularly for domestic home wiring and increasing incidence of home fires, the Council embarked on a research investigating electrical contractors.

The National Fire Authority has continually called on homeowners to ensure their properties are thoroughly checked by FEA-certified electrical contractors to prevent electrically-induced fires and the Council agrees with this statement. However this directive cannot be effective if unlicensed contractors are left to run loose without their services being stopped by the regulator, the Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA) or Fiji Telephone Directory continue to advertise services of unlicensed electricians through flashy advertisements in renowned and trusted mediums such as the Yellow Pages.

The Council's research in the past two months has found 29 businesses listed in the Yellow Pages of the Fiji Telephone Directory, to be operating without a license from the Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA). We cross-checked listed companies in the yellow pages with the official FEA list of licensed contractors. Our research staff also posed as customers and called up the listed contractors and refrigeration companies inquiring about their electrical services. Some of our findings showed disturbing results which puts consumer safety at risk. Some of these are:

  • Misleading or false information – A total of 64 businesses are listed as electrical contractors or electricians in the Yellow Pages, however 12 of these are openly providing their services without an FEA contractor’s license. The companies were contacted by phone and their status was cross checked with the list of licensees provided by FEA. One unlicensed company – National Energy Ltd – has a quarter-page advertisement in the Yellow Pages and provides “Domestic Wiring” amongst other electrical services. Consumers are unknowingly engaging the services of unlicensed electrical contractors which pose safety risks as the contractors have not been properly vetted by the FEA. Also consumers face risks of paying large sums of money for cheap wiring and poor workmanship. For this the Council calls on Fiji Directories Limited, the publishers of the Fiji Telephone Directories and Fiji Yellow Pages not to list unlicensed contractors in the 'Electrical Contractors' list or other relevant lists as it can be misleading to consumers.
  • Refrigeration Contractors- Our research also found that if companies are only providing refrigeration services then they do not require licence from FEA. However, some companies listed under “Refrigeration” provide electrical services with FEA licensing. A total of 20 companies are listed and advertised in the Yellow Pages as refrigeration contractors. Only two (2) of these refrigeration companies have FEA license to do electrical work. Nine (9) of these companies only do refrigeration work, while another nine (9) are engaged in electrical works without an FEA license.
  • Information on Licensed Contractors - The Council has also found that consumers are not being made aware of the licensed contractors available so that they can make informed choices when procuring electrical services. The Council has taken the initiative to place the FEA's current list of licensed contractors on its website (www.consumersfiji.org) so that consumers and the general public inform themselves of which contractors are allowed to provide electrical services.

As part of complaints handling, the Council is also aware of unlicensed electricians who do wiring in the homes but finally obtain signatures from a licensed electrical contractor without the home being checked by the licensed electrical contractor. The unlicensed electrician pays the licensed contractor for this favour.

The Council is disappointed that FEA as a regulator is not doing its job which puts consumers at risk. When Council reports cases of unlicensed electricians to FEA, FEA response is “nothing can be done because they are unlicensed” In a situation like this where do we expect consumers to go for the redress.

The Council believes that since FEA is the regulator they should crackdown on unlicensed electrical contractors.  Unlicensed contractors must be removed from the market place.  The Council is also recommending that the NFA be given the list to assist in its fire investigation, so as to ensure that unlicensed contractors are identified and taken to task. Furthermore, Fiji Directories limited and media companies should not be advertising unlicensed contractors as this would be misleading and contravene Fair Trading laws.