01.Federal court takes action
While the do not knock legislation remains in limbo, there's better news on the legal front.
In a federal court decision that ACCC Chairman Rod Sims has called “hugely significant”, energy retailer Neighbourhood Energy and its marketing arm, Australian Green Credits, have been fined a hefty $1 million for door-knocking sales tactics that breached Australian Consumer Law in multiple ways.
One of the charges was that door knockers hired by Australian Green Credits disregarded “do not knock” stickers, in effect refusing to leave when the residences requested to do so. The significance of the court ruling is that door knockers who engage in similar conduct in the future will cost the companies they represent up to $50,000 per incident.
Sims described it as a three-way win for consumers. “This is the first court outcome arising from the ACCC’s focus on door-to-door sales activity, it is the first ACCC case to be bought under the Unsolicited Consumer Agreement Provisions of the ACL, and it provides the first guidance as to the importance of ‘do not knock’ stickers.”
The court also found that door knockers representing Neighbourhood Energy lied to residents as part of the sales process, saying they not there to sell anything and that the consumer had been ‘zoned incorrectly’ and was being wrongly billed by their supplier.
Committee rejects bill
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs has recommended against passing the Do Not Knock Register Bill 2012- a private members bill introduced by Labor MP Steve Georganas.
The Do Not Knock Register Bill proposed a similar system to the already existing Do Not Call Register. If passed it would have imposed financial penalties on companies and individuals who violated door-knocking restrictions. However, government organisations, religious groups and charities would have been exempt.
While the committee cited the "constitutionality of the Bill" as the reason for its rejection, it appears that the Bill was most likely rejected because the committee questioned its capacity to address the issue of door-knocking sales tactics.
Decision a ‘disappointment’
However Mr Georganas was not convinced by the Committee’s decision. "I’m terribly disappointed because the Bill was referred to the committee to see if it was constitutional, the experts said it was, but it still got rejected" he said.
"The Do Not Call Register has been an overwhelming success with more than 7.6 million numbers registered, and 88% of those people reporting a decrease in calls".
"We know these registers work and we know people want them," he said.
Do not knock stickers
The committee noted that under the existing Australian Consumer Law (ACL) a salesperson must leave if requested to do so by a consumer. These protections have been central to campaigns by the ACCC and the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) which distribute Do Not Knock stickers. The ACCC is undergoing legal action to verify whether or not these stickers qualify as a request to leave under ACL.
However Mr Georganas argues that these protections are currently inadequate. "The Do Not Knock stickers are great when salespeople respect them, but too often they don’t, and that’s why the matter is now in court," he says.
"On the other hand, the Do Not Knock Register will give companies black and white rules about what’s acceptable and what’s not."
The CALC has also launched a petition calling on the major energy retailers to scrap their invasive door-knocking sales tactics.
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