Complaints lodged to the competition watchdog by people who say businesses denied their consumer rights surged to 29,000 in 2017, representing a yearly increase of 39%.
The notable increase has been described as "concerning" by the Australian
Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which spent much of 2017
exercising its powers against some of the largest companies operating in
Half of the 29,000 complaints were made against businesses selling
automotive vehicles, whitegood appliances and consumer electronics. All of these complaints had to do with customers claiming they were denied their after-sales rights.
Consumers have the right to a repair, replacement or refund under
Australian Consumer Law, says Dr Michael Schaper, acting chair of the ACCC,
even in some cases when the manufacturer warranty has elapsed.
"Consumer guarantee rights are separate to any warranty that comes with a
product," he says. "For example, if you buy a new TV that breaks down after
the manufacturer's warranty expires, you may still be entitled to
a ... repair, replacement or refund."
Retail stores cannot turn a customer with a faulty product away. "If you return a faulty product to the retailer you purchased it
from, they must provide you with a remedy and cannot direct you to the
manufacturer instead," says Dr Schaper.
The rise in complaints – to 29,000 in 2017, from 21,000 in 2016 – comes
as the ACCC is targeting misconduct in automotive and technology
It has commenced Federal Court proceedings against Apple, Ford and Optus,
and has agreed to enforceable undertakings from Holden, Telstra, TPG and
Belkin, to name a few of its actions in 2017.
But it has also had to respond reactively to lacklustre conduct across
industries, sometimes with little notice.
The ACCC had to investigate the issue of Takata airbags – widely
considered to be the largest car recall in history – after it was
found most car makers had failed to offer safe replacements quickly. A
mandatory recall has since been proposed by the ACCC to coordinate the
efforts of the 14 manufacturers trying to recall the 2.7 million cars
affected in Australia.
The ACCC is also dealing with the backlash over Australia's $49 billion
national broadband network by investing $7 million in a monitoring service, launching an inquiry into the quality of the wholesale network and pursuing the retail service providers that may be breaching consumer
What to do if you've bought a faulty product
Customers struggling to have their guaranteed rights enforced should drop
the words "Australian Consumer Law" in their dealing with businesses, says
Dr Schaper. He also recommends they complete the ACCC's online form if
they are denied their protected rights.
The type of redress available to customers depends on whether a product has what the law defines as a major or a minor fault. Customers can choose
from a refund, repair or replacement in the case of major failures; that
is, when a product is unsafe, not fit for purpose or has a problem large
enough to deter its purchase. In the case of minor faults, the business
gets to choose whether a customer receives a refund, repair or replacement.