Plumber reportedly owed over $600k after construction company collapses

An Auckland plumber says he's owed more than $600,000 after the collapse of another construction company.

Plumbuilt Plumbing owner Mat Alexander says laws intended to protect subcontractors like him have failed, and he's calling on the Government to "sort it out".

Alexander is trying to get some of his plumbing gear off a site, but he's locked out and in limbo.

Devoid of construction activity, the only people on site now are security guards.

"Maybe I could get some of my tools back if I have tools inside," he pleads with one guard. "I'll come back with the permission, okay."

His anger is directed towards Stanley Group and subsidiary Tallwood, the construction firms contracted by Housing New Zealand to build the development.

Alexander says he lost big at three sites after they went into liquidation.

"I would say in excess of $600,000, plus retentions, but we are yet to calculate the final figure," he says. "[I'm] pretty pissed off to be honest."

Retention money is paid to Alexander as work is completed. A 2017 law change aimed to protect subcontractors by ensuring this money was held in a trust and paid out in the event of insolvency. But he hasn't seen a cent.

"It would help out a lot of people if they could just get their retention money out of Stanley, you know. It would probably keep some of these smaller companies alive," he says.

"I know some of them are struggling to pay wages in the next couple of weeks, so where is the fair in that?"

Newshub understands Stanley Group owes dozens of subcontractors around $6 million in total. 

Director Kevin Stanley would not comment.

Also locked up inside these half-finished homes is 47 hot water cylinders. If Alexander could remove them, he could then return them to his suppliers and get some cash back, which would help lessen the financial blow.

Alexander wants the Government to make firms like Stanley more liable.

"The big bully wins at the end of the day and it's not fair," he told Newshub. "Sort it out, before we all walk. People can't take these types of blows."

The Minister responsible, Jenny Salesa, told Newshub: "There is a 'good level' of compliance with the retention rules.

"But the Government is working with industry to address challenges like 'poor risk management'."

Specialist Trade Contractors Federation president Graham Burke says there have been cases of firms using retentions for other projects, which shouldn't be allowed.

"We would like to see some tighter rules around how those retentions are held and penalties for directors who fail to hold them properly," he told Newshub.

"Historically we know that retentions have been used for working capital by some contractors."

Burke says Master Builders is working to establish what's called a voluntary accreditation system, which would reveal details of contractors' track record and their commercial viability to give those involved more certainty that the job would get done.

Back at the Mangere site, there was a reprieve of sorts for Alexander. One of his road cones was returned.

Now he can take $80 off his bill - just a tiny fraction of what he's owed.