ACCC launches online help for new consumer laws

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has launched an online module for small businesses to help them understand upcoming consumer guarantee laws.


The consumer watchdog has created a new section on its website to inform business owners of changes to the Australian Consumer Law, which come into force on January 1, 2011.


Consumer guarantees are a set of new rights for consumers when they purchase goods or service. The 12 guarantees outline the circumstances where a business is required to provide a remedy to a consumer.


The new Australian Consumer Law replaces the implied conditions and warranties in the Trade Practices Act as well as state and territory consumer protection provisions.


According to the ACCC, the ACL will put all Australian businesses on a level playing field in their dealings with customers.


ACCC deputy chair Dr Michael Schaper says the consumer guarantees provide more clarity for businesses and consumers about the circumstances where businesses are required to provide a remedy.


The consumer guarantees also clarify who is entitled to choose the most appropriate remedy – the supplier or the consumer.


“If a good or service does not meet the consumer guarantees, then a consumer can take action to obtain a remedy from the seller, service provider or manufacturer/importer,” Schaper says.


An ACCC spokesperson says the consumer guarantees apply to every business regardless of the goods and services they sell.


“You must understand what to do if one of your customers has a problem with something they buy from you,” she says.


“Of course, the consumer guarantees do not give an automatic right to a remedy. Consumers are not entitled to a remedy if they have misused a good, simply changed their mind, or the good has lasted for a reasonable period of time.”


“But if goods are not of an acceptable quality, don’t do what they’re supposed to do, or don’t match the description given or demonstration model or sample shown, then the consumer is entitled to a remedy.”


“Similarly, if services weren’t provided with care and skill or were not fit for a specified purpose, then the consumer is also entitled to a remedy.”


The ACCC says if a problem arises with a good or service, you should be willing to listen to your customer in order to negotiate a remedy.


“Most of the time, consumers will be happy for you to fix the problem or give them a replacement product. However, some consumers will demand a refund,” the spokesperson says.


Failure to provide a remedy may lead to legal action being taken against your business.


Schaper says it’s vitally important for all business owners and their staff to understand the consumers’ rights and their own rights.


“Where the guarantees have been met, there is no obligation for businesses to provide a remedy under the consumer guarantees provisions. For example, if a consumer changes their mind,” he says.


“However, businesses must still comply with any additional obligations imposed by any voluntary or extended warranties they offer.”


“The online education module is available for all businesses to use as part of their own staff training and I encourage all businesses – regardless of size – to do this.”


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