Current ACL national projects
Consumers with Disability & the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
Regulators are coordinating a national response to issues impacting consumers with disability, particularly those managing and receiving goods and services under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Service Delivery Mapping: ACL regulators
The purpose of the project is to create an easily accessible suite of tools that ACL regulators can call upon, that identifies how ACL regulators manage general enquiries and complaints, and the services they provide.
Engaging with Tribunals
This project aims to proactively engage with state and territory small claims tribunals and provide guidance in relation to the consumer guarantees regime of the ACL.
Fundraising Representations and the ACL
The purpose of the project is to monitor the fundraising and not-for-profit sectors for compliance with the ACL, with a view to encouraging compliance and emphasising the application of the ACL to representations made in the sector.
Door-to-door Lead Generation
The purpose of the project is to investigate and, if necessary, take action against parties engaged in 'lead generation' sales practices that may not comply with the unsolicited consumer agreement provisions of the ACL. The most common 'lead generation' sales practice is to engage a third party to attempt to gain an "invitation" from the consumer to set up a subsequent appointment.
This project aims to ensure consumers and traders using peer-to-peer or sharing economy platforms such as Uber and AirBnb are aware of their ACL rights and obligations. Regulators are also conducting research into ACL awareness amongst sharing economy users and are conducting education campaigns to further increase awareness.
Training and Professional Development
The purpose of this project is to identify the common competencies required by ACL regulator employees delivering key services with a view of coordinating training, resource-sharing and capacity building across jurisdictions.
'Pop-up' events, such as music, wine and food festivals held in open space venues, are high-risk for organisers who have to plan every aspect of the event well to cater for the number of tickets sold. Education was crucial to achieving good conduct in the marketplace, with 241 event organisers receiving written education material. Regulators also engaged with key industry associations and ran a national campaign educating consumers about buying tickets to events and festivals, and their rights when things go wrong.
The project had a positive effect on the marketplace. Only 6% of the events finalised within the project period involving significant issues affecting consumers' experiences or complete event failures, coupled with event organisers failing to offer consumers a timely and appropriate redress under the ACL. The project also gave regulators insights into a range of issues to monitor and action going forward, with a small number of businesses identified for possible investigation.
Most Complained About Businesses Nationally
This project aimed to identify the most complained about businesses on a national level and, if warranted, facilitate a coordinated response by ACL regulators to ensure these businesses are compliant with the ACL, to ensure the burden of ongoing compliance is born by the businesses instead of ACL regulators and to reduce the number of complaints to ACL regulators. Regulators identified suitable businesses and analysed their consumer contacts, ultimately engaging with 15 businesses about the reasons their consumers were contacting ACL regulators. When comparing the 12-month periods before and after the engagements, 80% of the businesses reduced their consumer contacts to regulators and 33% reduced consumer contacts to ACL regulators by 30% or more. Other businesses were considered for potential enforcement action as a result of more serious conduct.
'It's OK to Walk Away' (National Indigenous Consumer Strategy)
The project was coordinated through the National Indigenous Consumer Strategy (NICS) to help Indigenous consumers understand and protect themselves from high-pressure sales tactics, including increasing community use of consumer protection tools such as the 'do not knock' sticker. At the end of the project, evaluation found that the campaign helped equip the target audience with the information they needed to better deal with high pressure sales, and the compliance work undertaken identified specific trader behaviour that will be investigated further.
On-line Dispute Resolution
The project was to research online conciliation mechanisms and their ability to satisfy various jurisdictional requirements and whether any one system could be adapted by state and territory consumer regulators in the future. While options have been identified, the initial proposal for a 'one size fits all' online dispute resolution system is at this stage unachievable. It appears clear that the various differences in state-based dispute resolution processes and differences in IT platforms would favour individual jurisdictional consideration and response.
National Sentinel Pilot Program: Automotive Industry
Project Sentinel was a NSW initiative designed to prove the concept of an operational analytics platform which transforms and integrate multiple sources of data nationally into a single user-friendly environment and provide a range of analytic tools to develop understanding and meaning from the data. Project Sentinel sought to deliver an analytics platform that would greatly improve regulators' ability to share information and identify consumer issues in the marketplace at a national level.
The purpose of this project was to proactively engage with music festival organisers, ticketing agencies and other relevant bodies with the aim of increasing compliance with consumer laws. Through compliance assistance and education, regulators worked to ensure that those involved in these events – from promoters to attendees – were aware of their obligations and rights.
Credit Card Chargebacks
Consumer agencies regularly receive complaints about transactions that have not been fulfilled. In instances where the purchase has been completed by way of a credit card purchase, consumers are afforded the capacity to seek a chargeback on their account and recover the funds from the merchant bank. The project assisted ACL regulators to better understand how chargebacks operate with the ultimate goal of improving consumers' understanding of how to utilise chargebacks to address disputes and obtain appropriate remedies. Further to this the project created a readily accessible suite of tools to help ACL regulators understand the rules and conditions that govern credit card chargebacks.
Travel and Accommodation Industry
In February 2015, a national project to determine the key consumer protection issues in the travel and accommodation industry sector commenced. Key project objectives included determining the effects of the closure of the Travel Compensation Fund (TCF) in June 2014, considering ACL provisions to help define parameters for any future focus that may be required, and identifying any potential systemic non-compliance in the industry.
Real Estate Agent Services
NSW Fair Trading led a national project which involved conducting research to assist ACL regulators in gaining a better understanding of the key regulatory issues for the real estate agency sector at a national level. The project was also an opportunity for regulators to share lessons learned, experiences and best practice models.
This aimed to identify key consumer protection issues relating to training providers and the products and services they provide. Training products and services are used by consumers of all ages for a range of reasons including gaining qualifications, preparing for entry into the workforce, assisting with children's education and re-training in a different field.
The project delivered education to raise awareness amongst consumers and traders, as well as compliance and enforcement activities with identified non-compliant traders. As part of a series of investigations, including joint investigations with NSW Fair Trading, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (in some cases with the Commonwealth) has to date taken Federal Court action against a number of training providers, brokers and marketers. Consumer regulators across Australia are investigating other training providers and marketers, with further enforcement action expected.
- 22 April 2016, "Training Providers and Marketers on Notice"
Property Spruikers/Rent to Buy schemes
A project targeting misleading behaviour in relation to property investment spruikers. Property spruikers are property investment promoters — usually not licensed as real estate agents or financial service providers — who run wealth creation seminars, and offer property investment training and materials. The project is examining education, compliance and regulatory strategies aimed at preventing consumer and investor detriment resulting from property spruikers targeting prospective investors with promises of easy and quick wealth creation through property investment and other techniques such as rent-to-buy schemes.
- 12 June 2014, "Property spruikers must offer a cooling off period"
Scams with Focus on Romance Fraud
The purpose of the project is to reduce consumer and business harm from scams and fraudulent conduct through a cooperative approach to education and disruption activity in partnership with organisations in the money remittance industry. The aim of the project is to develop best practice guidelines in consultation with industry to put in place scam awareness messaging, to ensure businesses have adequate scam complaint handling mechanisms and to encourage businesses to actively seek opportunities to detect and prevent scam losses.
Cash back Schemes
This project involves the identification of cash back offers in the marketplace and a review of representations made to consumers about the offers. It includes seeking substantiation from retailers and manufacturers about the processes in place to ensure consumers receive the cash back as promised. The project also includes education to consumers and businesses about their rights and responsibilities under the ACL.
The project involves the identification of retailers using discounted sale prices, particularly 'was' versus 'now' pricing as a promotional tool. It involves seeking substantiation of the advertised discounted price against the previous price and includes education to consumers about pricing representations and encouraging compliance within various industry sectors.
- 19 March 2014, "Was/Now Pricing Now a Focus"
- 21 March 2014, "Was/Now Pricing Claims Under Spotlight"
Country of Origin Labelling on food and Olive Oil Representations
The project was undertaken to address concerns around the use of country of origin representations on oil and a selected number of food products (in particular those that were labelled as being Australian). Regulators also sampled the quality and grade of oil supplied in Australia in response to concerns that oil imported into Australia and marketed to consumers as extra virgin olive oil could on occasion be lower quality olive oil or out of date. As a result, regulators surveyed 354 olive oil products, 42 fruit cup products, 21 frozen pea products and 182 coffee products were surveyed. Regulators issued 54 substantiation notices were issued to traders and a small number of oil products were chemically tested against voluntary industry standards. This work found little evidence of consumer detriment due to systematic misrepresentations. Regulators will continue to consider food claims as part of their regular compliance activities under the ACL. The project also developed education around the various styles of representations commonly found on goods, for example 'made in', 'made in from local and imported ingredients', 'produced in', 'product of' or 'packed in'. ACCC guidelines on what consumers should look for when buying olive oil and country of origin
The project was undertaken by regulators to detect traders using fake online reviews and testimonials as a promotional tool. Regulators wanted to learn more about the way traders use fake testimonials, which are significantly under-reported given it is hard for consumers to know whether testimonials are true. Regulators reviewed 290 traders in 20 market sectors and issued substantiation notices to 38 traders. Several of those traders agreed to remove unsubstantiated testimonials from their websites. As a result of the project, regulators are now using key indicators to monitor testimonials.
- 29 August 2013, news.com.au, "Don't get sucked in by fake reviews"
- 3 December 2013 the ACCC released the publication "Online reviews – a guide for business and review platforms"
This project targeted the conduct of extended warranty providers and retailers offering extended warranties to consumers, focusing on whitegoods, computers and cars. Retailers may be avoiding their consumer guarantee obligations by making out that an extended warranty is the only way of fixing problems with products. Regulators were also concerned about use of high pressure sales tactics, terms and conditions not being properly disclosed and traders being unclear about their ACL obligations. The joint operation examined 141 retailers across Australia.
- 21 December 2012, "Extended Warranties under Fair Trading spotlight"
- 3 January 2013, "Extended Warranties in the Spotlight"
- 12 January 2013, "Extended Warranties Under Scrutiny"
- 27 November 2013, "Consumers urged to be wary of extended warranties"
Activities to ensure awareness of, and compliance with, the consumer guarantee provisions of the ACL by retailers and suppliers within the telecommunications, whitegoods and electronic goods industries.
Unfair contract terms
A project reviewing standard form contracts used by on-line retailers in order to develop guidance and a communications plan for on-line traders and consumers in relation to the ACL's unfair contract terms procedures.
Investigation of claims made by promoters of small scale renewable energy schemes or by suppliers of energy-saving products targeted at the domestic consumer market.
Indigenous consumer protection
Education and compliance action to reduce detriment to indigenous consumers, particularly in regional and remote areas.
Group buying websites
Introduction of a nationally co-ordinated and considered response to issues arising from the group buying industry, such as through promotion of best practice through self-regulation, implementation of voluntary codes of conduct, and encouraging compliance with the ACL.
Travelling con men educational campaign
A national response to the issue of travelling con men through an education campaign, encouraging consumers to report their activities, gathering intelligence and co-ordinated enforcement action with other law enforcement agencies.