The Consumer Rights You Don't Have In Australia

The ACCC's recent decision to take Valve to court highlighted that we have well-defined consumer rights in Australia which big businesses ignore at their peril. It's worth knowing what those rights are -- but it's also helpful to know what you can't do. Here's a refresher on some of the most common misconceptions.

Money picture from Shutterstock

The Valve case highlights three key features of Australian consumer law which are worth remembering:

  • No business is allowed to claim it has a blanket "no refunds" policy, as Valve appears to have done with some consumers. If you're sold goods or services that don't match their description and a major flaw is evident, you're entitled to a refund. We've discussed this issue, and the related equally dubious claim of "no warranty", in much more detail.
  • Someone who sells you a product can't tell you that you have to contact the manufacturer if there's an issue. Whoever sells you the product has to deal with any complaints you may have that require a remedy. Valve isn't the first tech brand to have fallen foul of this; Apple has also made similar claims in the past, and eventually had to make a formal undertaking promising not to do it anymore.
  • Since 2011, Australia has enjoyed unified consumer laws, which means the same rules apply in every state. In some cases following up with a state-based agency will be the best way to seek a remedy, but there's no variation in rules from state to state, unlike in the US.

It's always worth remembering you have these rights. If you ever want to check on specific details, the ACCC maintains a useful site detailing your rights and how to deal with issues.

While the unified Australian approach has reduced confusion, there are still some common misconceptions about what rights exist. Here are three that we encounter quite regularly at Lifehacker, and the reality that applies.

Myth: You can score a refund if you change your mind

There's no entitlement to a refund simply because you change your mind about a purchase. Many retailers will let you do this (check the exchanges queue at Big W, Kmart or Target on Boxing Day), but that's an additional and voluntary service, not something they're obliged to do. The same applies if someone gives you a gift which duplicates something you already own; while many retailers will let you exchange in these circumstances, they're not required to.

Myth: You must have the original receipt

It's not unreasonable for retailers to ask for a receipt as proof of purchase if you're seeking a refund, repair or exchange -- especially with goods that aren't exclusive to one store. However, that doesn't mean that retailers can insist on you producing the original paper receipt. You're entitled to produce a scan or photograph of the receipt, which is easier to file and less likely to be misplaced.

Myth: There are fixed warranty periods associated with individual categories of goods

A year or so ago, I was in a JB Hi-Fi, along with my brother Alex, also a frequent Lifehacker contributor, buying a television as a gift for a family member. The salesperson was trying to talk us into buying an extended warranty for the TV, and said: "The law in Australia says large screen TVs are only covered under consumer guarantees for 12 months."

He picked the wrong people to spin that utter lie to, but many buyers would be taken in. We regularly receive letters to Ask Lifehacker trying to find out "how long" a phone or a TV or a washing machine is expected to last. The simple answer? It depends.

Australian consumer law specifies that goods must work for a "reasonable time", taking into account the nature of their use and what they cost. However, the ACCC does not maintain any kind of master listing specifying what those periods are. "Reasonable" would be determined on a case-by-case basis.


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Comments

    Nice one. There's also an ACCC app which gives you quick access to consumer law info. Makes it easy to check if what the salesperson is telling you is legit.

      There is!? Thanks man. I am soooo getting that.

    "You’re entitled to produce a scan or photograph of the receipt, which is easier to file and less likely to be misplaced."
    Also a great idea if you have a product with several years warranty on it, but the thermal-printed receipt fades out to illegibility before that period is up. (Eg: Laptops/PCs/tablets.)

    Also useful for at least one free replacement of ear-buds (because finding a pair that outlives its warranty is one hell of a gamble). "Yeah, the left bud's audio cuts out, now."

      The amount of headphones that die despite the fact I look after them. You know I never ever think to warranty those earbuds I just suck it up and replace them.
      Now that JB rip off only have $70ish pairs and none of the cheapo's I used to buy I think I will start photocopying those receipts.

        You might find that those headphones are dying so often because you keep buying the cheapo's. I used to go through at least one set of IEMs each year. I thought that it was because I don't take care of them and for that reason I would only buy the budget ones. Then I was given a $200 set as a gift and 7 or 8 years later they're still working.

          Or just hard-wearing. Because I've had $200 Sennheisers die in between the 1-2 yr marks as well.
          (Also, anything Phillips has usually broken inside of 6 months. Better design than some, terrible quality.)

      Just checked the bottom of my Bunnings thermal receipt for my 3 year warranty cordless drill.

      For best results, please store this receipt out of direct light and away from heat, humidity and plastics

    The "reasonable time" thing is great for phones too. Used to work for a telcom retail store and we'd get people coming in 14 months into their 24 month contract with manufacturer malfunctions and the manufacturers kicking up a stink when we said that they were covered under consumer law.

    Oh, memories.

      Hahaha a 24 month contract is probably the best implied warranty ever. Pretty hard to argue out of that one.

        A lot of people don't know about their rights, especially when it comes to "reasonable time". They just lie back and take it most times.

          I work for a company that gives 24mth warranty for their phones, and one time a customer came in literally 2 days after that period. Manufacturer denied it, but I showed them the Consumer Law and they had to change the phone. Took a bit of back and forth though. You're right, if they'd said that the warranty doesn't cover to the customer they'd have had no idea that wasn't the case.

    A question tat affects a lot of small businesses and voluntary organisations is how they are treated when they purchase capital equipment. For example, some of these organisations may only have the purchasing power to buy domestic appliances but they may use them in a break room or volunteers use them as part of the organisation's catering needs.
    Similarly, they may only be able to purchase residential-tier AV equipment but in both cases they end up being given shorter warranty periods by manufacturers or told that they can't purchase an extended warranty for the equipment concerned.

    Yesterday I returned a faulty Fitbit Flex with no receipt. I had my card and the date of purchase and Officeworks did the rest. Were really good about it too, despite them having to run all around the store.

    So I took a photo of the receipt when I got home to ensure they wouldn't have to run around again.

    Officeworks will email you the receipt. Just remember to ask them if they don't ask you first. I have a rule that then sticks this straight in my Tax folder in my email.

    Had a really bad experience with an order online from a Melbourne-based warehouse. Received the wrong item but the retailer told me I'd better off keeping the wrong item, even though it was a cheaper version of the product I actually ordered. They also refused to replace it unless I paid all postage.

    Took about 6 months talking to ACCC etc, and in the end they found that I was in the right, but even so, the retailer has no obligation to pay the postage for returning/replacing the item. I get the feeling that consumers have a lot less rights than we think we do, and most of the time businesses just behave well to try and save face. Just so happens that this one didn't care.

      Why not name the business so the rest of us can learn from your experience?

    I recently bought a car dashcam from Kogan that was advertised as "High quality 1280x720 HD recording". When it arrived, I quickly discovered that it was actually 640x480 (which when it combined both the front and rear cameras, the output file was 1280x480).
    I contacted them ready for a fight, but they apologised, gave me a full refund, and updated the description on the webpage.

    Would anyone be able to inform me of the process for claiming warranty on a mobile phone? It is a razr hd and the battery that originally lasted 3 to 4 days now lasts half a day at work. Would this be enough to justify a faulty machine? Its less than 12 months old and purchased unlocked from Dick Smiths if it matters.

      Well, that depends on the manufacturer, actually. For example, Samsung provides a 6 month warranty for their batteries, because a battery is classed as an accessory (unless the battery is in-built and cannot be removed). HTC, Apple and Sony give full warranty (usually 24mth). You can claim your warranty from either Dick Smith or Motorola. Neither can tell you to go to the other.

        I read my warranty and as the battery is non removable, I believe its classed under a 2 year period rather than 6 months for removable batteries. I'll give it a try as it says " You are also entitled to have the Products repaired or replaced if the Products fail to be of acceptable quality
        and the failure does not amount to a major failure.", however it also says "As with all batteries, the maximum capacity of the battery will decrease with time and use; this is not a defect. Only defective batteries and batteries that leak are covered by this warranty" so I guess I'll need to be persuasive!

    Unless the product has a replacement warranty, you're often better off going direct to the manufacuter. HDD in my laptop died - was usable, but had errors. Rang HP, they sent a new HDD out next business day as a swap. So I handed the courier the old drive, and took the new one.

    If I took it to the retailer, they'd have taken it. Logged it with HP, then HP organise the repair - probably at least 2 weeks.

    Last edited 04/09/14 12:00 am

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