The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has launched a Carbon Price Claims Hotline where businesses and consumers can complain about false or misleading carbon price claims.
The ACCC is also running a webinar in August for small businesses where businesses can ask questions of ACCC staff.
Dr Michael Schaper, deputy chair of the ACCC, told SmartCompany the watchdog wants to provide an easy, simple avenue for consumers and small businesses to contact the ACCC if they need information on carbon issues or if they want to raise a complaint about pricing by a firm.
“For consumers the message is simple: Businesses are always free to raise prices up or down as they see fit, but you have to be truthful and have a reasonable basis. If a business raises its prices dramatically and says it is all due to the carbon tax, many consumers may turn around and say, ‘I think the impact is much smaller than that’,” says Schaper.
“The same applies to small businesses. You have to have a reasonable basis for telling your customers why you are charging what you are charging. What we are concerned about is businesses that mislead consumers by telling them an increase is due to the carbon price when it is not.”
The ACCC says the number of businesses it is examining in relation to claims of carbon tax price hikes has doubled in the last month, with closer to 200 businesses coming up on the watchdog’s radar.
“A large number have been resolved simply. It is amazing how it clarifies the mind when we get in touch and say we have a concern about an issue, plus there have been cases which are genuine misunderstandings,” says Schaper.
“We have seen some spectacular examples, like a woman who paid for her wedding who was contacted and told that since it falls after July 1 she is going to be charged an extra $5 a head for a carbon tax levy.”
Schaper says “not a huge number” of businesses have been investigated so far, but the ACCC had been surprised by some of the claims made by businesses.
“We were surprised at the start by a number that were just ‘try it on’ efforts, but now the tax is closer to implementation we are getting more substantive issues,” he says.
Iain Smale, managing director of sustainability and carbon advisory firm Pangolin Associates, says the ACCC hotline is a “positive step”, as he had already seen people trying to overcharge as a result of the carbon tax in ways similar to when the GST was brought in.
“It is a huge risk for business as there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding out there about what the impact is to be,” says Smale.
“Someone emailed me and said they were told prices would go up by 3% by July 1 and it was blamed on the carbon tax. I suggested they go back and ask for that to be substantiated as the impact on prices is estimated to be around 0.1%.”