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Consumer Protection Complaint

As a consumer of products or services in Australia, you hold certain rights. These consumer rights are enshrined in law in Australia in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and laws relating to these rights are sometimes referred to as the Australian Consumer Law. The Australian Consumer Law applies to all Australian business and operates federally and in all states and territories. A person can make a consumer protection complaint if they purchase goods or services and the provider breaches the provisions of the Australian Consumer Law.

The Australian Consumer Law commenced on 1 January 2011. Prior to that date, the consumer laws that applied were separate in each state and territory and nationally, the legislation that applied was the Trade Practices Act 1974. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act contains provisions that mirror the Australian Consumer Law for consumers of financial products and services.

Who enforces consumer law?

All Australian courts and tribunals enforce the Australian Consumer Law. The federal and state and territory consumer regulators administer the Australian Consumer Law. These organisations are:

  • At the federal level, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission;
  • In New South Wales, Fair Trading New South Wales;
  • In Victoria, Consumer Affairs Victoria;
  • In Queensland, the Office of Fair Trading;
  • In Western Australia, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety;
  • In South Australia, Consumer and Business Services;
  • In the Northern Territory, Northern Territory Consumer Affairs; and
  • In the Australian Capital Territory, Fair Trading.

If you are a consumer and believe your consumer rights have been breached, you may make a consumer protection complaint to these bodies for the resolution of your complaint.

Consumer protection definition

According to the Australian Consumer Law, you are a consumer if you meet the following requirements:

  • You acquire goods or services that are less than $40,000;
  • You acquire goods or services that cost more than $40,000 but are of a kind usually acquired for domestic or household use or consumption, e.g. a car;

Have my rights been breached under the Australian Consumer Law, and can I make a consumer protection complaint?

There are a number of general prohibitions outlined in the Australian Consumer Law which you may believe have not been followed by the provider of goods or services. These include:

  • That misleading or deceptive conduct is prohibited;
  • That unconscionable conduct in trade or commerce is banned. Conduct may be found to be unconscionable if it is particularly harsh or oppressive; and
  • That unfair contract terms in consumer transactions are banned. An unfair contract term is one which causes a power imbalance between the parties contracting that is unnecessary and may cause a financial disadvantage to a party.

If you believe one of these prohibitions has been breached, you may have a legitimate cause for lodging a consumer protection complaint.

Further to these general prohibitions, there are specific rules under the Australian Consumer Law, which if breached, may provide you with a good reason to make a consumer protection complaint. These general rules include:

  • That specific unfair trade practices are banned. These include:
    • Trade practices involving unsolicited goods or services;
    • Trade practices involving pyramid schemes;
    • Trade practices involving harassment or coercion.
  • Some consumer guarantees automatically apply to consumer goods and product-related services.
    • These include that products must (taking into consideration the cost and type of product):
      • Be safe
      • Be lasting
      • Not contain faults
      • Do the things someone purchasing them would expect them to do
      • Match descriptions made by salespersons, on labelling and in marketing material;
      • Match samples or demonstration models;
      • Be fit for the purpose the vendor told you it would fulfil or a purpose you made known you wanted it for prior to the time of purchasing; and
      • Come with a clear title and no hidden debts or extra charges;
    • These consumer guarantees also include that services must:
      • Be provided with adequate care and skill and appropriate technical knowledge;
      • Give the results that you had agreed upon with the service provider;
      • When no end date is agreed upon, the services must be provided within a reasonable time.
  • Specific safety standards are guaranteed for specific products, and bans can be issued for specific products. These safety standards and bans are published on the website www.productsafety.gov.au.

Penalties and Remedies

Some breaches of the Australian Consumer Law by a goods or services provider may be a criminal offence. So, your consumer protection complaint may lead to the prosecution of an individual or a company. By making a consumer protection complaint, you may be seeking a different remedy. Other remedies under the Australian Consumer Law that may be provided include a refund, replacement or repairs.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter please contact Armstrong Legal. 

Kathryn Sampias

This article was written by Kathryn Sampias

Kathryn Sampias has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism. Kathryn was admitted to practice in 2005 and practised law for more than eight years, working both in private practice (mainly in defence litigation for professional indemnity disputes) and in the public service for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) in enforcement.

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