20 Jun 2022

Who is responsible for Private Power Poles in WA?

At a recent Australian Institute of Conveyancers (AICWA) council meeting, members arrived at the consensus that they will request The Office of Energy and Safety working alongside Western Power to consider launching an online private power pole register. This would enable a quick and efficient search to determine whether there are any outstanding notifications concerning maintenance and repairs.

In addition to the online register, it was the AICWA’s opinion that the Law Society and REIWA should review the Joint Form of General Conditions (JFGC’s) to determine whether any reference to private power poles and the subsequent disclosure of notifications for repairs and maintenance could prevent future tragedies such as the ‘Parkerville Fires’.

What are Private Power Poles, and who maintains them?

Private power poles allow electricity to be transported from the main switchboard and meter to the home or other buildings and facilities.

Under common law, the property owner’s legal responsibility (Duty of Care) is to install and maintain private power poles and lines so they do not pose a safety risk to the property occupants, adjacent properties and their occupants or the wider community.

After an initial report and subsequent court case(s), Western Power shares a common law duty of care to undertake regular inspections of the poles.

Case Study: The Parkerville Fires

On 12 January 2014, a fast-moving bushfire ignited a fallen wooden electricity pole located on a privately owned property. This resulted in approximately 392 hectares of bushland and, the destruction of 57 homes and 7 outbuildings (e.g. sheds, carports and pergolas). Another 6 homes were partially damaged. This tragic event is now commonly referred to as the “Parkerville Fires”.

A report of the incident was followed by a class-action resulting in a Supreme Court of Western Australia judgement that found Western Power not liable. This was then successfully appealed in the Court of Appeal in Western Australia and overturned the decision made in the Supreme Court of WA. It was concluded that Western Power breached a common law duty of care by failing to have periodic inspections of the poles and was found liable for negligence.

Following the Court of Appeal directive, Western Power commenced inspections which lead to notifications for any rectifications and repairs being posted or placed in the letterboxes of property owners. In most cases, property owners will receive a formal notice period to complete repairs.

Property owner guidelines for Private Power Poles

The “Guidelines for the Safe management of private power poles and lines” published by the Office of Energy Safety (DMIRS) and states:

1.2 Responsibilities

Property owners have a duty of care under Common Law to ensure that the assets on their property are constructed and maintained in a manner that does not present a safety risk to occupants, adjacent properties and their occupants or the wider community. These assets include any private overhead power lines or private power poles installed on the property. Property owners should maintain all electrical equipment that they are responsible for in a safe and serviceable condition in order to reduce the risk of:

  • – injury or electrocution of residents or members of the public;
  • – a fire on the property or causing a bushfire; and
  • – adversely affecting the quality of electricity supply to other consumers. Construction and maintenance of private overhead power lines will generally constitute electrical work and must be carried out by licensed electrical contractors

Buyer’s & seller’s responsibilities when transferring property at settlement

Buyers may not be aware of their responsibilities and the potential cost of outstanding work or future maintenance or repairs to poles unless they have been disclosed by the owner (seller) before the transfer of property at settlement.

If a seller had not received a notification to replace or remedy a defective pole, the onus will fall on the incoming buyer. Legal remedies are available for incoming buyers who have not been made aware by the seller of the defective pole (and who were aware of this defect before settlement).

A common example in which a notification has failed to be received occurs when the owner of the property does not occupy the dwelling. Tenants may receive the notification and either ignore it or not pass it along to their landlords, in which case the notice of the defective pole is lost in the system.

For more information about your responsibilities with private power poles contact Vicki Philipoff Settlements and speak to one of our property settlement specialists today.