Consumer Protection (Vic)
Consumer protection in Victoria is governed by the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012. This Act applies Australian Consumer Law, as defined in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act, as the law in the state.
The Act is administered by Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV), which is a division of the Department of Justice and Community Safety. The agency is also responsible for administering other Victorian acts, including the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, Estate Agents Act 1980, Fundraising Act 1998, Consumer Credit (Victoria) Act 1995, Sex Work Act 1994, Retirement Villages Act 1986, Motor Car Traders Act 1986 and Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995.
Consumer Affairs Victoria
CAV enforces Australian Consumer Law for consumers, businesses, property owners and tenants in Victoria. This includes:
- reviewing and advising the State Government on consumer laws and industry codes;
- advising and educating the public on their consumer rights and responsibilities;
- registration and licensing of businesses and occupations;
- conciliating business and tenancy disputes;
- ensuring compliance with consumer laws.
CAV offers specialised help for indigenous Australians and people with a disability.
Five public committees provide advice and administrative support to CAV :
- Business Licensing Authority, which licenses and registers occupations including real estate agents, motor vehicle dealers and sex workers.
- Estate Agents Council, which reports on issues specific to the industry;
- Motor Car Traders Claims Committee, which evaluates claims made by consumers against motor vehicle dealers;
- Residential Tenancies Bond Authority, which holds all Victorian tenancy bonds in trust;
- Sex Work Ministerial Advisory Committee, which advises on regulation, control and operation of the sex work industry.
Guarantees for consumer protection
Under Australian Consumer Law, businesses must guarantee their products and services. The guarantees ensure consumer protection by providing consumer rights when products or services are defective.
Products must be safe, lasting, have no faults, look acceptable and be fit for purpose. They must also:
- match all descriptions, on packaging and in advertising;
- come with full ownership and undisturbed possession;
- not carry hidden debts or charges;
- meet any extra promises, such as lifetime guarantees;
- have spare parts and repair sites available unless a consumer is told otherwise.
- be provided with sufficient care, skill and technical knowledge and avoid loss and damage;
- provide results agreed by the parties;
- be delivered in reasonable time when there is no end date.
Complaint handling and dispute resolution
If a dispute with a business over a consumer guarantee cannot be solved by communicating directly with the business, there are several options.
CAV’s conciliation service is facilitated by a CAV officer to ensure consumer protection. To be eligible for the service, an attempt must have been made to resolve the dispute; the dispute must not have been handled by, or be pending in, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT); and there must be a reasonable chance of resolution. Participation is voluntary and any determination is not binding.
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal
VCAT can determine consumer disputes in several ways, including:
- referring a dispute to a mediator;
- ordering money be paid or refunded;
- ordering specific performance under a contract;
- ordering rescission of a contract.
The Victorian Ombudsman investigates complaints about actions of government authorities. Its other functions are to conduct alternative dispute resolution; provide education and training; and review complaint-handling processes of authorities.
After considering a dispute, the Ombudsman can recommend, for example, that:
- the matter be referred to an authority to be determined;
- action be taken to deal with the effects of the administrative action;
- practices be varied;
- laws be adjusted;
- reasons be given for an administrative action.
Legal proceedings to ensure consumer protection
CAV can take compliance and enforcement action against businesses who do not abide by consumer guarantees. In 2020 cases included action against:
- a real estate agency for alleged underquoting and making misleading representations about property sale figures.
- a man who ran a car trading business without holding a car trader’s licence. He was convicted and fined $12,500 and ordered to pay costs of $5000.
- fundraisers who raised money while unregistered, and failed to meet their legal obligations to bank appeal money and keep records. They were fined $13,000 and ordered to pay costs of $8500.
- a man who managed a retirement village while he was insolvent and within five years of a conviction for an offence involving dishonesty or fraud. He was fined $12,000 and ordered to pay more than $29,000 in costs.
For advice on consumer protection, or advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.