Navigating the complicated world of consumer rights can be confusing. In our experience, even retailers and manufacturers don't always understand what the rules are.
We've put together this comprehensive easy-access guide to help you understand your rights when you go shopping, and what to do when a product doesn't live up to expectations.
Australian Consumer Law (ACL) covers you when you're buying or paying for goods, just like it does for services. This guide explains the legal guarantees you have as a consumer, and how you can take action to resolve an issue.
Consumer guarantees apply to all purchases for personal and household use and cover:
- New and secondhand items
- Sale items
- Online purchases
- Gifts with proof of purchase, like a receipt or bank statement
Problems the ACL doesn't cover
Consumer guarantees won't apply if you:
- Bought the product before 1 January 2011
- Bought the product privately like at a garage sale
- Are re-selling or modifying the product as part of a business you're running
- Changed your mind or saw the product cheaper somewhere else
- Bought the product at auction where the auctioneer is acting as an agent for the seller
1. Contact the business
Before you take action, first contact the business and talk to them about your issue. Sometimes a call is all that's needed to fix the problem.
When you call the business, take notes on who you spoke to, what you discussed and the relevant dates. That means the conversation is recorded in case you need to refer to it later.
When you contact the business, you should use key phrases to get your point across. Our email and phone templates can help you with advice on how structure your conversation with the business.
To find out if your specific problem is covered by consumer guarantees, follow the next steps in this guide.
2. Work out what kind of problem you have
The ACL sets out consumer guarantees which can help you address problems with something you bought. You can refer to these guarantees when you contact the business about your issue.
You're able to get a repair, replacement or refund if what you bought doesn't meet one of these guarantees. The remedy available depends on whether the problem is minor or major (see point 3).
Product isn't fit for purpose
Meaning: A product must be of acceptable quality and must be:
- Fit for its normal purpose
- Acceptable in appearance and finish
- Free of defects
- Safe and durable
Example: You bought an expensive blender but the blades snapped after a week. A blender won't work without blades, so this is a major problem.
Product doesn't match the description
Meaning: The product must match what's described on its label, packaging, advertisement or website.
Example: You visit an online store and order a blouse that's described as silk. When the item is delivered, you find that the blouse is made of polyester. The blouse doesn't match its description and you can ask for a full refund.
Product is significantly different from what you expected
Meaning: The product must match any sample or demonstration model shown to you.
Example: You walk into a showroom looking for white ceramic tiles. You go home and order the tiles you saw from their online store. The tiles delivered turn out to be green, so doesn't match the original sample.
The business made extra promises it hasn't kept
Meaning: Extra promises made about an item are called 'express warranties'. These promises relate to the quality, condition, performance or characteristics of the goods.
Example: Knives advertised on TV as "Guaranteed to last 10 years or your money back!" must work for at least 10 years.
Spare parts and repairs aren't available
Meaning: After buying the item, spare parts and repair facilities will be available for a reasonable time.
This guarantee doesn't apply if you were told at the time of purchase that spare parts, and repair facilities won't be available after a certain date.
Example: Reasonable will depend on the type of goods bought. So tyres for a new model motorbike should be available years after purchase. While, parts for a toy bought at a discount store likely won't be available, even right after purchase.
The business didn't have the right to sell you the goods
Meaning: Another person can't repossess or take back the item because it's either stolen or sold without the owner's consent. The right of the business to sell you the goods means they have clear title.
Example: After buying a van from a licensed dealership it was repossessed by the police because it was stolen. So that means the dealership didn't give you clear title to the van.
3. Work out if the problem is minor or major
A problem is major if at least one of these applies:
- you can't use the item
- repairs can't be made quickly or at all
- it's unsafe
- you wouldn't have bought the item if you knew about the problem
- The product has two or more minor failures, and you would not have bought the product if you knew the nature and extent of these failures. (Note: These failures don't need to relate to the same consumer guarantee.)
If it's a major problem, you can
- Get a refund
- Get a replacement for an identical item
- Get a replacement of similar value
You can also choose to keep the product, but ask for compensation to make up the difference between the amount paid and the value of the faulty item
There's no formula to determine how much compensation you'll receive. If you need to chase it up legally, a court will decide how much money you'll get if you keep the faulty item.
If it's a minor problem
Minor problems are anything that can be fixed within a reasonable period of time.
If the problem is minor, businesses can choose to:
- Give you a refund
- Replace the goods
- Repair the goods
However, if the product has two or more minor failures, it can be considered a major failure.
CHOICE Help email templates can help you script your complaint before you get in touch with the business. These templates will help you write your complaint easily and in a way the business will understand.
If you're contacting the business by phone. Here are some telephone scripts to help you start your conversation.
If the supplier refuses to help you or provide a remedy, you can take these steps:
- Write to the business, explaining your rights under the consumer guarantees.
- Contact your state fair trading agency.
- If it concerns a safety issue, report it to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission Product Safety Division.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.