The competition watchdog has indicated the downward trend of carbon price complaints could continue, but insists it will continue to take a hardline approach to businesses that deliberately mislead consumers.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released its second statement on carbon price complaints and enquiries since the commencement of the carbon tax on July 1.
According to chairman Rod Sims, the ACCC received just over 1,260 carbon price complaints and enquiries between July 1 and July 24.
Compared to the 630 complaints and enquiries received within the first 10 days of the scheme, this represents a decline from an average of 63 complaints a day to approximately 45 a day.
Encouragingly, the trend has continued downwards in recent days, Sims said in a statement.
The sectors that continue to record the most complaints are the energy, landfill, refrigerants, and building and construction sectors.
Sims said the ACCC has already issued around 30 businesses with an educative or warning letter, depending on the circumstances.
“The ACCC, at any one time, can be investigating up to 20 businesses in order to understand the claims being made and will, where necessary, take enforcement action,” he said.
Many of the complaints and enquiries received arise from confusion between carbon price claims and other price adjustments.
“Even where a business has tried to ensure its representations are clear and accurate, a stray comment from an employee that casually refers to price increases as being carbon-related, when they are not, could result in a complaint to the ACCC,” Sims said.
However, Sims said businesses in general are making an effort to ensure staff do not mislead consumers.
The ACCC made special mention of the retail and hospitality industries, which are generating a diverse range of complaints due to the fact that they affect most consumers on a daily basis.
The ACCC has received allegations of misleading carbon price claims against hairdressers, cafés, bakeries, supermarkets and drycleaners.
There have also been occasions where the ACCC has become aware of claims being made by those in retail or hospitality that blame price increases on the carbon price in a way that may be deliberately misleading.
The ACCC said it will be less tolerant in such cases “as consumers deserve better”.
The ACCC has already announced enforcement action with undertakings from two suppliers of solar panels, and court enforceable undertakings received from Brumby’s and Equipserve.
Polaris Solar Pty Ltd and ACT Renewable Energy Pty Ltd
Informal undertakings were accepted from solar panel suppliers, Polaris Solar Pty Ltd and ACT Renewable Energy Pty Ltd, for carbon price claims in advertising leaflets regarding the impact of the carbon price on household electricity prices that the ACCC considered were likely to mislead.
Retail Food Group, owner of Brumby’s bakery, gave court enforceable undertakings in relation to comments made by Brumby’s to its franchisees in an internal newsletter suggesting franchisees link retail price increases to the carbon price.
Equipserve Solutions, a refrigeration contractor, offered a court enforceable undertaking in relation to statements made in an email to its customers, which attributed the entire amount of an increase in the price of a refrigerant gas to the carbon price when that was not the case.
Further actions are expected to arise from investigations over the next few weeks.