A Guide To The New Australian Consumer Protection Laws

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.

Guarantees

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.

Unsafe products

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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Comments

    The Product Safety Australia site also has a Twitter RSS feed that you can subscribe to for a nice compact list of current recalls.

      +1 to this. Very handy after all the dangerous Xmas products for gifts.
      I don't understand why there isn't a section in the newspapers (which I don't ready anyway) to inform consumers about recalled products.

        Recalled products are published in newspapers. I think it is part of the requirements of the whole process. You see them from time to time but they aren't particularly prominent or necessarily in any particular section of the newspaper.

    does this apply to government paid medical system?

    everyday is a sale.

    Spare parts and servicing must be available for products for a “reasonable time” after sale

    reasonable time. 18 month waiting list....

    Angus,

    Judging from your synopsis, this act legislation reminds me a lot of the NSW residential tenancy act, in that it uses weasel words such as "reasonable". Not being familiar with the legislation it replaces, I am not sure if this is new or not but I can tell from experience that the unintended consequences of using these types of words in legislation are that the consumer gets screwed.

      This is a fantastic step in the right direction - the 'reasonable' clause works so well in the consumers' favor.

      When I was in NZ, they had a similar law bought in called the Consumer Guarantees Act. In it, products must last for a 'reasonable' amount of time. The supplier had a choice to repair, replace, or refund at their discretion.

      What this did was quash the notion of a '3 month warranty' - for example, if the product should reasonably last more than 18 months and it breaks down due to a manufacturers fault within that time, the law protects you beyond those terribly short 3 months.

      The telemarketer and door-to-door thing is a brilliant addition - however, why not exclude the entire weekend? Mind you, the 'do not call' list is a much nicer solution - but maybe making it 'opt-out' instead of 'opt-in'? :)

        If the Do Not Call Register was Opt In, no one will opt in to receive calls.

        What I did was to do this to stop telemarketers from calling me http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2010/07/more-tactics-for-putting-off-telemarketers/

        Eventually, they get sick of calling you and they never call back.

    go to JB, ask to see their new consumer guarantee booklet, they've come to the party big time, replacement with a smile!

    And how will this be enforced? I see that the ACCC are responsible for enforcement.

    Forgive my cynicism, but I haven't seen the ACCC levy a fine that exceeded the amount of money that the company in question made from the shonky practice for years.

    Companies will simply ignore the law. If they break it, the ACCC might then go and fine them 30% of the money they made from the shonky practice in the first place (but generally won't fine them at all).

    I really hope someone can point out a case that proves me wrong, but I doubt it will happen. The ACCC are a toothless tiger and everyone knows it, especially the dodgy operators.

    My girlfriend bought me a shirt for christmas, however it was a size to small. I took it back to the retailer to get the next size, but they refused because it was missing the tags (barcode / price etc), even though I had the original receipt.

    According to their own return policy, both on the receipt and posted in the store, for an exchange you must have the receipt and do so within 28 days of purchase (which it was).

    I subsequently called their Head Office, and they have since arranged for an exchange.

    The End.

      does this new law re consumer protection cover customers buying and paying big dollars for inferior kitchens installed by unskilled workers i feel very let down i am a pensioner, very trusting and to think that this person was a friend of the family and an australian i dontknow which way to go for advice. bev

    How does one go about claiming these things though?

    I mean if I wandered into a (god forbid) a harvey norman complain that something broke the lady at the register wouldn't know what I was talking about. And the manager if he was aware of the law may just have a different definition of the word reasonable and tell me to go on my way.

    What would be the next step?

      You should contact the ombudsman. Most times they can sort it out for you.

      You take it to your state's fair trading office. You also tell that manager you'll be taking it there, and tell him explicitly what statutory rights you think he's breached. They usually come around when you mention you're willing to go to fair trading, or at the very least when you let them know that the issue has already been raised, and that you have an incident number or such like.

      Hi Blake.

      As a fairly recent employee of the QLD government organisation that answers these questions, I feel -at least- a little qualified to answer that question (hopefully. If you need extra clarification the fair trading website is pretty good at outlining what to do as well.)

      It depends on the situation what your next step is. But the recommendation from OFT is that you first try to resolve the matter with the owner or manager of the store there and then.

      If that fails, then the usual process involves formally notifying them of your complaint (ie. in writing), and allowing a reasonable (which is defined here as ten days) time for response.

      If that process fails, then you can go through a complaints process (again, it's written) with the Office of Fair Trading, or the ACCC. Each state body will be responsible for enforcing the new regulations, so it's up to you who you take your complaint to.

      I hope that was helpful.

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

        >“something broke the lady at the register”
        >
        >Was it alimony payments?

        No, the soul-crushing horror of having to work at a Harvey Norman.

    Oh my, the never ending story of extended warranty :). Worked at Domayne as a PC tech I have learned all of the ins and outs of the retailers dirty tricks. It was VERY painful for me to go to work and literally lie to people in their faces, and put up with every crap that Harvey Horman/Domayne/Joyce Mayne do behind the scenes.

    Falsifying original receipts, false declarations, misleading product information, selling tactics that go beyond honest business ... etc.

    Let me give you an example:
    1. buy decent mainboard = 3yrs warranty
    2. buy HDD = minimum 3 YRS warranty
    3. buy decent RAM modules = minimum 3yrs some lifetime warranty

    Go to HN, you'll be bombarded with "strategically" prepared objection handling from any sales person. Whether they like to do that or not, they have NO choice because that's what they told to do so, or are getting paid to do so, or do they?

    Let me give you a sickening example:
    Regular Joe sees a good deal advertised in one of the retailers catalogs. Every new catalog IS filled with market loss leaders and occasional HNX (Harvey Norman Exclusive) product. The loss leader product will be the one that brings people in the door, but the HNX product will be the one that the sales person will try to switch sell to you. Average Joe sees that great laptop/PC and he goes into the store, he is at "CLOSE" stage, ready to buy. The sales persons job, as instructed by HN is to switch sell to HNX product that makes them money.

    With sweet sales pitch: "That is a great choice but before you purchase this product, what will you be using this product for? Will it suit your "lifestyle", do you mind if I show you something better?" OMG!!! What the sales person is trying to do is to get the customer at "QUALIFY" stage so he can switch sell. REMEMBER: EVERY SALES PERSON AT HN IS TOLD TO DO THIS!!!

    Now, let me tell you this: There is so many people out there that are working so hard for their dollar, and they are going into these stores to purchase laptops/PC's for their kids etc. Who gives the right to HN to play with people's minds. If out of 10 people 4 bite into the "sales" technique HN makes money.

    I could write a book about this, but to be honest, I just like to give heads up to every person out there to be VERY careful when purchasing goods at ANY retailer.

    About extended warranty, don't even get me started, it is called "add-on" for a reason.
    Ext. Warranty is just a waste of money, not a peace of mind, as "they" call it.

    Hope that this helps to someone out there.

    Regards,
    "GeekTech"

      i agree that sales people do push you to products that are going to make them money....why wouldnt they the get shitty pay and rely on commission to earn a living , as you would know - there are many great deals out there, its up to the customer to do there research and get whats best for them ....and lets not forget here that they are STORES there hole purpose is to make money they are not a charity ...... im sure you wouldn't work for free no matter how noble your heart is we all gotta eat ...... the problem here is people buy on price...thats it, as a salesperson myself i pide myself on my Knowledge and wanting to help the customer out with what they need but im turning to the dark side as customers dont care about this ...they love my great service and my help and Knowledge but would not think twice in walking to the next store after talking to me for over an hour and buying it of the dickhead that has no idea and is just there for money spends 5 mins with them and undercuts me $10 and takes the deal ....the customer doesn't care a bit ...they got it cheaper so there happy , meanwhile the guy that tried to help them and educate them gets nothing for all the hard work he has put in to learn about his products and technology is broke and cant afford to feed his kids , where is the fairness in that ..... like i said im turning to the dark side why should i care about customers when they treat me like crap

      but back to the subject you get what you pay for.... you buy a $500 peice of crap and when offered warranty you decline saying "ill just get a new one " dont come crying when it breaks down in 12 mths when you were offered a chance to basically guarantee it for a number of years ....and theres my rant ....2 sides to every coin

    Angus, your statement that telemarketers must provide a clear written statement... could be very useful in a current dispute I have. I have had a (quick) look through the act but cannot find this. Can you point me in the right direction. Thanks

    i had a party recently and the DJ didnt turn up and the cake came ruined. what are some Relevant Consumer Protection Laws for this? thanks

    I was lied to when buying a second hand car, privately. Does any of the new legislation help me?

    The government have made something that was measurable ie min 1 year warranty into a “reasonable time” warranty, Lawyer speak to get more poor saps hiring one of them to fight the gray area the government has opened up for them. It is shocking to see this and people think there going to be better off. This is about confusing the issue not making it better. If they wanted to improve the situation they would simply increase the min warranty period to a set figure. Another step in the wrong direction if you ask me.

    Does this mean that things like "warranty void if sticker removed" or Apple's jailbreaking voids warranty are illegal or do companies get to make a few rules too?

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