Green Loans workers 'ripped off'

Home Sustainability assessors (from left) Andy Gough, Russell Trebilcock and Michael Qualmann are experiencing difficulties trying to get in contact with the Federal Government’s Green Loans office.
Home Sustainability assessors (from left) Andy Gough, Russell Trebilcock and Michael Qualmann are experiencing difficulties trying to get in contact with the Federal Government’s Green Loans office. DAVID NIELSEN

A GOVERNMENT program aimed at helping the environment has instead left scores of Northern Rivers residents without incomes while failing to provide households with information needed to cut energy costs.

People working as assessors for the Federal Government’s Green Loans program have reported being unable to contact the office responsible for booking assessments and processing their pay for at least two weeks, and many say they have not been paid since before Christmas.

The claims follow reports the $70 million scheme, which was initially intended to employ about 1500 assessors Australia-wide and run until 2012, has instead registered up to 10,000 assessors and will run out ofmoney by Easter.

Under the scheme, households can have a ‘sustainability assessment’ done, helping them to slash power bills and apply for subsidised loans of up to $10,000 for equipment such as solar panels.

People wanting to work for the program as assessors generally have had to pay out about $3000 for training, insurance and registration, and comments from several assessors to The Northern Star suggest many will not even make their initial investment back.

One Lennox Head-based assessor said he had been working since December. He had not seen a cent of the $5000 he had earned and he knewothers in the same boat.

The assessor, who did not want his name published, said he had tried to call the office that deals with assessors every day for the past fortnight, but had not been able to get through.

He said he believed few, if any, of the sustainability reports the Government was supposed to send households after he filed his assessments had been delivered.

Another assessor, high-profile Greens member Andy Gough, signed on last October, expecting a new career that offered flexible hours – a bonus with his partner about to have their first child – while helping the environment

The dream soured just before Christmas when Mr Gough found he could no longer get through to the assessor’s office. Despite repeated attempts, along with calls to Environment Minister Peter Garrett’s office, it was not until yesterday that he managed to speak to someone in the office and book some jobs.

In the interim, Mr Gough and his young family were left without an income.

Mr Gough is better off than many of his colleagues. He works through local green company Nickel Renewable Energy, run by Gordon Fraser-Quick, and can get prompt payment so long as he has a booking number. Independent assessors, such as the one at Lennox Head, were left waiting on the Government’s convenience for their pay.

However, there were rumours of others bending the scheme to cash in.

The Lennox Head assessor said he had heard of an assessor offering people a $50 cut of his $200 taxpayer-funded fee if they let him assess their homes.

The Government seemed to have no problem with that.

“As long as assessors abide by the code of professional practice, they can make personal commercial decisions about what incentives, if any, they offer when marketing their services,” a department spokeswoman said.

Mr Fraser-Quick said he had heard of assessors being paid by companies to push their products – which could be bought using a Green Loan – on homeowners during assessments.

The spokeswoman said that did breach the code of practice and the department was looking into the issue.

Mr Fraser-Quick said he was embarrassed to be associated with the program.

“In my 30 years of professional and private experience, this is the single biggest cock-up I have ever seen,” he said.

He won’t have to be embarrassed long. The departmental spokeswoman, although not giving a new timeline, agreed the Government would reach its target of 360,000 housing sustainability assessments ‘earlier than anticipated’.

Asked if the scheme had failed, the spokeswoman said it was ‘on track’ to deliver its 360,000 assessments. Householders were reporting a positive experience with the program and assessors found the work rewarding.

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