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Schembri clients ‘frustrated’ by NSW Fair Trading

Disputes involving discredited wedding photographer, Ryan Schembri, highlights the challenges faced by consumers when dealing with the NSW tribunal system and Fair Trading, as couples struggle to reach a resolution using these official channels.

Ryan Schembri. Source: newbornposing.com.

Last week Fairfax published a follow-up article to its April 2021 exposé of Schembri. For those unfamiliar with the numerous client allegations against Schembri, most revolve around claims he failed to deliver full wedding packages, particularly albums and prints, while costing a premium fee.

Like Inside Imaging‘s follow-up coverage published last month, the new Fairfax report unearths unreported allegations, while hearing updates from clients who shared their experience with the media in 2021.

These client allegations are at odds with Schembri’s response, who initially described the 2021 coverage as a ‘wake up call’, and now claims he’s resolved 20 disputes since last April.

While the photographer didn’t respond to Inside Imaging‘s request for comment, Fairfax reports that Schembri disagrees with claims over a failure to provide refunds, and all outstanding goods will be delivered. He also attributed longer album turnaround times as partly impacted by how long it took clients to select their images, and believes clients are using the threat of media coverage as ‘a bit of ammo… to get more money out of me’.

‘Obviously there was an issue in me delivering on prints and albums for people and there was a hold-up there on my end, which I took responsibility for originally,’ Schembri said. ‘I wanted to take that out of my hands and get back to really what I am good at, and that is with a camera and photographing.’

Fairfax focussed on how clients were ‘left frustrated’ after attempting to take action through NSW Fair Trading or the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

NSW-based couple Pali and Marcelo Delgado paid Schembri $8000 to shoot their November 2019 wedding. The package included a pre-wedding shoot, an additional second photographer on the wedding day, all images on USB, and a 50-page fine-art wedding album, which cost an additional $100 per page to upgrade from the 30 pages. The pre-wedding shoot didn’t happen, according to the couple, and they never received the album.

Although they eventually obtained their digital files after months of hassling, and Schembri did send them a photo album. Except it wasn’t theirs – it was a random person’s lingerie shoot!

The couple had no success with NSW Fair Trading. And so far Schembri has avoided being listed on the agency’s official complaint registry, which requires more than 10 complaints per month.

The Delgados turned to the NSW Tribunal, which ‘declined to determine the application’ as it comes under federal jurisdiction due to Schembri living in Queensland. This is a problem for NSW-based clients seeking a resolution. Schembri was previously based in Sydney, and regularly works there.

Schembri said he’s also dealing with two cases in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal for clients who lived in NSW.

The Delgados resolved the matter with Schembri by receiving a few refund payment instalments, and after the payment deadlines were missed they agreed to drop it if he provided more edited digital files.

‘We’re speaking out really just to give some kind of warning to other people that are planning their weddings to check referrals,’ Pali Delgado told Fairfax. ‘If we had looked on Google, we would have found that he had issues with other people.’

Another client, Carmen Hickey, had a dispute with Schembri and lodged a complaint with NSW Fair Trading, which was unable to assist as ‘all methods available and all attempts to obtain a response [had] been unsuccessful’.

Here’s an excerpt from the Fairfax article:

‘He was unaware if they would have to travel for the hearing. Schembri said the tribunal system was generally good, but he would like more support for the small business owner and more opportunities for mediation.

Consumer Policy Research Centre chief executive Erin Turner, commenting generally on the legal system rather than the Schembri case, said the system put the burden on individual customers to take action through state tribunals to enforce their rights.

“This means that repeat offenders and businesses with bad practices are too often let off the hook,” Turner said.

Turner said a regulator such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or a state fair trading department should be able to take companies to court to seek penalties when a business repeatedly fails to meet the consumer guarantees.

The federal government consulted on reforms earlier in the year that would strengthen the consumer guarantees stronger, she said.

A spokesperson for NSW Fair Trading said the department receives more than 40,000 complaints each year and between 50 and 150 are about wedding photographers and videographers.’

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