ACCC to go after late payers

The competition watch dog has warned that it could take action against businesses that delay paying their bills.

The competition watch dog has warned that it could take action against businesses that delay paying their bills.

The head of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, Graeme Samuel, says that if a supplier or customer suddenly pushes out payment terms from say 30 days to 120 days, that could be seen as unconscionable conduct.

The ACCC could then prosecute the late payer, Samuel warns. As the economic slowdown bites, anecdotal research suggests that in the past few months people have slowed down on paying bills.

Samuel and the Government is keen to nip late payments in the bud, but he also warns that the ACCC needs a test case before it can act.

“Unconscionable conduct has been around since the late 1990s, but we have not had a test case,” he says. He is looking for a case where there has been harsh and oppressive treatment “without conscience”, Samuel says. He wants a clear cut case with the company having evidence and keen to testify in court. “The supplier or customer must have said to them basically take it or leave it.”

He says once he gets the test case, it can be fast tracked and then used to provide a salutary lesson for late payers.

He says it has been difficult to get a test case because either a company may pull out as it doesn’t want to upset a client or the case ends up not being clear cut, with arguments about payment and contract terms emerging.

“Once we get the test case, we can provide a very clear warning to those who suddenly change their terms in a harsh and oppressive way that such conduct won’t be tolerated,” he says.

If you want to act as a test case, send your name to feedback.

 

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