The Australian Consumer Law
The full text of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) is set out in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (previously known as the Trade Practices Act 1974 (TPA)).
These and other guides are designed to explain the ACL in simple language, but are not a substitute for the legislation. They provide general information and examples and do not constitute legal advice or a definitive list of situations where the law applies.
The ACL includes:
Chapter 1 – Introduction: a single set of definitions and interpretive provisions about consumer law concepts, including a definition of 'consumer'.
- For the purposes of the ACL, a person is a 'consumer' if they acquire goods or services that are priced at less than $40,000. A person is also a 'consumer' if they acquire good or services that are priced at more than $40,000 but they are 'of a kind ordinarily acquired for personal, domestic or household use or consumption'. For example, a person who acquires a vehicle for use in the transport of goods on public roads, irrespective of price, is also considered to be a consumer for the purposes of the ACL.
Chapter 2 – General protections: general protections, which create standards of business conduct in the market, including:
- A general ban on misleading and deceptive conduct in trade or commerce;
- Section 18 of the ACL prohibits a person, in trade or commerce, from engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct. This prohibition is not limited to the supply of goods or services and creates a broad, economy-wide norm of conduct.
- A general ban on unconscionable conduct in trade or commerce and specific bans on unconscionable conduct in consumer and some business transactions;
- Conduct may be unconscionable if it is particularly harsh or oppressive. To be considered unconscionable, conduct must be more than simply unfair—it must be against conscience as judged against the norms of society.
- A provision that makes unfair contract terms in consumer contracts void;
- A term is 'unfair' when: it causes a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations arising under the contract; and it is not reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the supplier; and it would cause financial or non-financial detriment to a party.
Chapter 3 – Specific protections: specific protections which address identified forms of business conduct, including provisions:
- Banning specific unfair practices in trade or commerce;
- The ACL prohibits certain false or misleading representations, the supply of unsolicited goods or services, participating in pyramid schemes, and practices involving the display of prices, referral selling, harassment or coercion.
- Dealing with consumer transactions for goods or services;
- The ACL provides guaranteed consumer rights for goods or services, sets national rules governing unsolicited sales transactions and outlines five basic rules for lay-by agreements.
- On the safety of consumer goods and product related services;
- A consumer product safety law and regulatory framework applies nationally, which includes the making of safety standards, the issuing of product bans for consumer goods or product-related services that could cause injury, the recall of consumer goods under similar conditions and the mandatory reporting of accidents in particular situations;
- A 'one-stop shop' website, Product Safety Australia (www.productsafety.gov.au), has been developed to provide consumers and businesses with access to regulatory information concerning the safety of particular products and services.
- On the making and enforcement of information standards;
- The ACL allows the Commonwealth Minister to prescribe information standards about the information required to be provided by suppliers of consumer goods and of services.
- On the liability of manufacturers for goods with safety defects;
- The ACL sets out the statutory rules for dealing with liability claims for loss or damage, including economic loss, caused by supplying goods which contain a safety defect. Any person, as well as a regulator on behalf of a consenting individual, may commence an action against a manufacturer to recover compensation where the person has suffered loss or injury as a result of defective goods being supplied.
Chapter 4 – Offences: criminal offences relating to certain matters covered in Chapter 3.
- The ACL provides that certain breaches of the law are sufficiently serious such that they may be treated as criminal offences, to which criminal sanctions apply.
Chapter 5 – Enforcement and remedies: national enforcement powers and remedies relating to consumer law.
- The ACL creates national enforcement powers, to be used by all consumer law regulators, including civil penalties and remedies for breaches of the ACL. Not all remedies require a breach to be taken to court. For example, under the ACL, consumers can seek a refund, replacement or repairs if a supplier fails to satisfy its obligations in relation to consumer guarantees.
Further information about the ACL is set out in the Explanatory Memorandum and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum.
Regulations made under the ACL are set out in Parts 6 and 7 of the Competition and Consumer Regulations 2010.
The ACL Regulations give practical effect to the ACL provisions dealing with:
- prescribed requirements for asserting a right to payment;
- agreements that are not unsolicited consumer agreements;
- requirements for warranties against defects and repair notices; and
- reporting requirements for goods or product-related services associated with death, serious injury or serious illness.
Further information about the ACL Regulations is set out in the Explanatory Statement.