Hotline runs cold: Hardly any small businesses dobbed in to the ACCC’s carbon tax hotline

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission hotline has received more than 630 complaints and enquiries about the carbon price since July 1 but very few have been in relation to small business.

The watchdog says the highest category of complaints received has been about claims made by energy retailers, especially in relation to price increases on electricity bills.

ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper told SmartCompany that it seemed the watchdog’s “extensive campaign” about the hotline and the carbon tax had worked.

“What’s interesting is that there is not a large number of complaints about small business,” he says.

“Frequently what we have found with small business is that they are compliant with the law and complaints are very low.”

Schaper says the 630 enquiries include all forms of contact from specific complaints about a breach of the law to people asking for brochures.

“It even includes people ringing the line to express their own personal opinion about the carbon tax.”

He says after energy retailers, the sectors that received the most complaints and enquiries are landfill, building and construction and refrigerant gases – all of which may be directly affected by the carbon price in some way.

“These are all the really complex areas. Small retail shops and small traders are not figuring high on the count,” Schaper says.

The 630 enquiries through the carbon tax hotline compares to the 8,350 general complaints the ACCC received in the same period of time.

Schaper says the 630 enquiries can be further reduced to 20 investigations, now being conducted.

“The figure of 630 is quite low compared to the volume of figures we get into our general help line day in and day out,” he says

“A lot of the complaints have been where the consumer has misinterpreted what the trader has said to them.

“The figures certainly are low, I will leave it to others to make their interpretation of that, but we did an extensive campaign among the small business community and consumers to inform them about the hotline and educate them in advance.”

Schaper conceded that the number of calls to the hotline may be low as many businesses are still trying to calculate whether they need to adjust their prices.

“The carbon tax and implications for businesses are still working its way through the system so we are going to keep the hotline open for a while,” he says.

“It is certainly a work in progress.”

The ongoing confusion over the carbon scheme has been highlighted by Colorpak telling its customers it would have to pay the $23-a-tonne carbon price, despite not being listed as liable for the tax.

The packaging company said on its website it would pay ”per tonne of carbon that is released into the atmosphere, directly and indirectly”. It estimated an annual carbon bill of $407,445.

The statement was removed from the website after Colorpak was told it was not directly liable and its electricity bills were likely to increase by about 10% due to the scheme.

Last week, the ACCC accepted informal undertakings from solar panel companies Polaris Solar and ACT Renewable Energy for making false carbon tax claims, while bakery franchise Brumby’s was caught red-handed attempting to blame price rises on the carbon tax, after a letter sent by the company to franchisees was leaked.

Schaper says the ACCC is still investigating Brumby’s in relation to its carbon tax claims.

“The Brumby’s matter is something we are still dealing with, we don’t generally make a public comment until it is resolved,” he says.



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