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7 in 10 people mistakenly believe businesses are already required to treat consumers fairly

Consumer groups call for strong new fairness laws to close gaps in Australian Consumer Law.

Last updated: 29 November 2023

New nationally representative research from CHOICE has found 7 in 10 (72%) people believe Australian businesses are required to act fairly towards consumers, even though there is no law that requires this. Consumer laws have not kept up with community expectations, allowing many harmful and unfair practices, such as subscription traps and unfair pricing, to continue.

CHOICE's research also found:

  • 69% of people mistakenly believe Australian businesses face penalties if they've been found to have acted unfairly
  • 89% said businesses charging you higher prices for a product or service based on the personal information they collected about you online is unfair
  • 90% said businesses that make it difficult for you to cancel your online subscription to a product or service you no longer want is unfair
  • 84% said businesses selling extended warranties that don't cover you for anything in addition to what is available under the law is unfair

The research comes as the Consumer Policy Research Centre (CPRC), CHOICE and other consumer advocates make a submission to the government's unfair trading consultation process and call for a new ban on unfair business practices.

Quotes attributable to CPRC CEO, Erin Turner:

"Australians are missing out on protections that consumers in other countries have benefited from for decades - we need laws to effectively call-out and restrict unfair practices. This law will mean businesses have to treat you with respect and care."

"This law will protect Australians and give certainty to businesses, fostering a healthier marketplace that doesn't reward or give competitive advantage to those businesses who exploit or manipulate consumers."

Quotes attributable to CHOICE Senior Policy and Campaigns Adviser, Alex Soderlund: 

"There are a number of gaps in the consumer law when it comes to protecting people from unfair business practices. These gaps leave consumers in Australia vulnerable to all kinds of unfair treatment, ranging from businesses making it nearly impossible to cancel a subscription online, to charging you higher prices based on personal information they collect about you online."

"It's time for the law to catch up to community expectations. 7 in 10 people believe businesses are already required to act fairly towards consumers. Making unfair business practices illegal is a necessary step to update Australia's consumer law, protect consumers from harm and promote healthy competition. New fairness laws must also have strong penalties for businesses who do the wrong thing, to ensure they're held to account for their bad behaviour."

The joint consumer submission to the government also recommends that:

  • An unfair trading practices prohibition should incorporate a general ban with a 'blacklist' of specified unfair trade practices, which is specified and managed by the regulator, and subject to public consultation.
  • An unfair trade practices prohibition should be economy-wide, and there should not be a carve-out for financial services. 
  • The full range of penalties and remedies, including civil penalties and actions for damages and compensation, should be available for breach of an unfair trade practices prohibition.

The submission and survey responses are available here.

Editor's notes: 

CHOICE Consumer Pulse June 2023 is based on a survey of 1,087 Australian households. Quotas were applied for representations in each age group as well as genders and location to ensure coverage in each state and territory across metropolitan and regional areas. Fieldwork was conducted from 7th to 22nd of June 27, 2023.

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Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.