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Consumer rights: Australian consumer protection laws

We've broken down the key laws that protect consumers' rights in Australia. These are the basic principles you need to know.

As a consumer, you will come across many grey areas when it comes to your rights and this can make life very difficult as the old adage "the customer is always right" doesn't actually hold a lot of legal weight. The area of consumer rights is such a vast one it's little wonder most people are often unsure of what their rights actually are in a wide range of situations. With this in mind, there are a number of laws and regulations in place to help to deal with and protect consumer rights. This includes the Commonwealth Trade Practices Act 1974, which is administered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). In addition to this, there are also various state regulations in place, such as Fair Trading Acts.

While the area of consumer rights and consumer laws is complex and huge, there are some common areas of consumer law that everyone should try and familiarise themselves with, as this will make it easier to know what your rights are in the event you fall victim to what you believe could be a breach of consumer rights. Of course, when it comes to consumer laws, you can always find plenty of information that may relate to your specific needs and queries from a number of authorities as well as through resources such as online. However, knowing some of the basics can be invaluable and will help to ensure you're able to recognise some common cases of consumer rights breaches.

Misleading conduct and unfair practices

Misleading conduct and unfair practices are among the ways in which consumer rights can be abused or breached by companies. There are many illegal practices that some companies may engage in, sometimes wilfully or in some cases because they do not even realise they've breached consumer rights.

Some of the ways in which you may find your consumer rights being breached include:

Misleading conduct

This is where traders engage in some form of misleading conduct, commonly in advertising, where they mislead the consumer with the information they provide. This is often done unintentionally but could still lead the consumer to make a decision in regard to purchasing the goods or services based on misleading claims. For example, some of the ways in which you could be misled by an organisation include:

  • Claims that the product or service is cheaper than a rival product or service when this is not the case
  • Guaranteeing results about a product or service when there is no proof available
  • Making false statements about the quality or standard of goods and services
  • Making misleading claims about the nature or suitability of products or services

Unfair practices

There are a number of different, commonly used tactics and methods employed by some traders and companies, which are actually unfair. Employing unfair practices is in breach of consumer laws and regulations. Some of the ones you may have heard about or even experienced include:

  • Failing to ensure the consumer understood the terms of any contract, transaction or documentation
  • Using harassment or undue force to make a consumer reach a particular decision or make a payment
  • Failing to provide full details of the products or services the consumer is considering, which could ultimately affect its suitability (an example is payment protection insurance cover, which was sold in the UK to many people who were self-employed even though self-employed workers were not eligible to make a claim on it)

Product guarantees, refunds and failure to adhere to implied warranties and conditions

It is worth noting the Trade Practices Act and state/territory consumer laws work implied warranties and conditions into consumer contracts, which means that regardless of any written guarantee or warranty (or lack thereof) the goods or services should last for what is considered to be a reasonable amount of time. The type of product or service and the amount paid will help to determine just how long a "reasonable" amount of time actually is.

If you would like to read more about refunds and product guarantees in Australia, check out our guide on everything you need to know about refunds.

Failing to supply goods of a merchantable quality

When you buy any goods, they must be fit for the purpose for which they're usually purchased. This means they must be of merchantable quality. However, there are exceptions to this rule, which you should bear in mind. The exception in cases such as:

  • If the consumer was made aware of the defects in question prior to actually purchasing the goods
  • If the consumer examined the goods before making the purchase

There are also additional consumer rights regulations that relate to services, such as services having to be carried out with due care to achieve the desired result agreed upon prior to the commencement of work.

Of course, there may be many instances where it is unclear as to whether any breach of consumer rights has taken place. In cases such as these, where there is uncertainty, it is worth checking with the relevant authority, such as the fair trading office in your state or territory.

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