On January 1, new consumer protection laws came into place across Australia. We've got the lowdown on how the new rules protect you against door-to-door selling, telemarketing, warranty rip-offs and more.
Picture by Ben Husmann
There are two major benefits to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, which replaces the Trade Practices Act as the main piece of legislation covering consumer rights and protection in Australia. Firstly, it incorporates a nationally-agreed set of consumer protections, the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), meaning there's now consistency in consumer protection strategies across all Australian states. (That's good news for businesses as well as consumers, as it means that there's no need to keep abreast of different rules for interstate customers.) Secondly, it provides much more specific rules regarding perennial annoyances such as telemarketers.
The new elements of the laws, which will be enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), cover three main areas, which we've discussed below.
Fully-defined statutory guarantee rights apply to all products and services sold in Australia. While there are nine specific rights regarding goods and three regarding services, the essential rules are as follows:
- Goods must be of acceptable quality (taking account of their price and nature), and fit for the purpose they were designed for.
- Goods must match any description made of them and any sample shown. If you're buying a product for a particular purpose, make sure you discuss this explicitly with the salesperson. If in doubt, get it in writing.
- Spare parts and servicing must be available for products for a "reasonable time" after sale.
- Services must be carried out with due care and skill, and achieve any result specified. If a plumber promises to fix a leak and the leak continues, the onus is on the plumber to repair it.
There are no explicitly specific periods specified for how long goods must be functional for, since this varies enormously depending on the product category. However, as the ACCC has made clear with recent discussions with phone companies, products provided as part of a contract like mobile phones must remain operable and serviceable for the duration of those contracts.
Businesses can extend these rights -- for instance by offering a more specific or longer warranty -- but they can't reduce or ignore them. A business might reasonably argue that the conditions applying to an item sold as a "second" are different, but they can't opt out altogether. As a consumer, you wouldn't be able to complain about a stitching flaw in a "seconds" pair of jeans, but if they fell apart the first time you put them on, you'd likely be entitled to ask for a replacement or refund, since they don't meet their intended purpose at all.
The law also clarifies how problems are to be remedied. If the issue with a product is "major" -- defined by the ACCC as "one that is so severe that a reasonable consumer would not have bought the good or service if they had fully understood the problem with it" -- then the consumer can choose whether they want a refund, replacement or repair, and the vendor can't object to their choice. For less severe problems, that decision can be made by the supplier.
Unfair selling practices
The big improvement here is laws which limit the hours when door-to-door salespeople may visit and telemarketers can call. Door-to-door salespeople can't show up before 9am or after 6pm on weekdays, before 9am or after 5pm on Saturdays, or at any time on Sundays or public holidays. Telemarketers unfortunately still have a little more wriggle room: they can't call before 9am or after 8pm on weekdays, but have the same rules for weekends and public holidays as their door-to-door bretheren.
Any such salespeople must also provide a clear written statement outlining the total price of the deal, the cooling off period during which the contract can be withdrawn from, and the termination conditions associated with the contract. As well, providing unsolicited products and services and then seeking payment is banned.
These are now covered by a national register. Businesses must notify the ACCC within two days of becoming aware that they may have supplied an unsafe product. Consumers can report unsafe products via the Product Safety Australia site.
Consumer protection laws don't give you the right to demand a refund because you've changed your mind, or because your shiny new phone has been run over by a truck. But they do ensure that you have well-defined legal rights when problems occur.
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