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.
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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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