The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is the governing body that is in place to serve the best interests of all consumers. An independent statutory government authority, The ACCC was created to ensure that the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 is being adhered to by businesses Australia-wide.
Ultimately, the ACCC enforces the laws to protect consumers from unlawful actions taken by businesses. Using a range of tools to ensure that they remain compliant, the ACCC works alongside businesses and key stakeholders to provide education and guidelines that will protect all consumers.
What is the ACCC’s role in helping consumers?
All businesses, whether small or large, must meet a set of consumer guarantees when they sell products or services. Whenever a consumer purchases a product or service from a business, these basic rights are automatic, and it is deemed unlawful if they are not upheld.
The ACCC helps consumers by:
- Educating both businesses and consumers about their rights and obligations under Australian Law
- Enforcing strict guidelines for businesses to follow
- Investigating when businesses behave unlawfully
- Undertaking market studies to support future consumer outcomes
Essentially, The ACCC continues to protect consumers’ rights and ensure that businesses are not taking them away without an approved condition.
When do consumer rights apply?
Consumer rights apply to any and all products and services purchased for personal, household, or business use. Although products are always covered by consumer guarantees for personal purchases, business purchases can be covered if a number of conditions are met.
There are some exceptions and special circumstances where consumer guarantees aren’t protected under law and don’t apply, including:
- If a product has been hired or leased
- Private sales and auctions
- Products or services purchased prior to 2011
- If a product or service purchased by a business exceeds $100,000
- Products and services purchased or used by overseas businesses
- Any engineering, architectural, or financial products and services
- Any services used to transport or hold business products
Current ACCC priorities
A number of areas were outlined by the ACCC as being essential enforcement priorities during the 2023–2024 financial year, with a shift towards understanding the rising cost of living pressures that consumers are facing, alongside a focus on environmental sustainability.
These current priorities, alongside a number of enduring priorities, include:
- Consumer product safety, fair trading and competition concerns in relation to environmental claims and sustainability
- Scam detection and disruption
- Consumer and fair trade issues in relation to misleading or deceptive advertising and marketing in the digital space
- Unfair contract terms in consumer and small businesses
- Competition and consumer issues surrounding pricing and selling of essential services
- Competition and pricing issues in gas markets
- Empowering consumers and improving industry compliance with consumer guarantees
- Competition and consumer issues in global and domestic supply chains
- Competition and consumer issues relating to digital platforms
- Promoting competition and investigating allegations of anti-competitive conduct in the financial sector
- Exclusive arrangements by firms with market power that impact competition
- Ensuring that small businesses are protected by competition and consumer laws
- Consumer product safety issues for young children
Recent ACCC findings:
The ACCC has recently drafted guidance for businesses in relation to framing the way they communicate their environmental and sustainability actions to consumers. This follows an investigation into electric carmakers’ claims that the vehicles produce zero emissions, a statement that was found to be misleading since it fails to consider the entire production process of the cars before they make it to market.
As the worldwide environmental crisis continues, a tactic coined ‘greenwashing’ (misleading or making selective claims about environmental credentials) is on the rise. The findings against electric carmakers set a precedent across the industry that prevents advertisers from making such claims and will eventually work to punish businesses that continue to deceive consumers, despite the guidelines that are in place.
The ACCC’s draft guidance for businesses covering this specific area is titled “Eight Principles for Trustworthy Environmental and Sustainability Claims”, and consumers are encouraged to make submissions covering the wider economy until September 18th, 2023.
Consumers are constantly at risk of business exploitation. Misleading and deceptive conduct in advertising is explicitly outlawed in Australia; however, cases are on the rise. Victor Legal is an expert consumer law firm with a wealth of knowledge and demonstrated experience across multiple industries. If you feel that your rights as a consumer have been breached, it’s important that you seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Contact us today for further information.