Your rights as a consumer

GROCERY CHECKOUT BOY

So what are your basic rights?

The Australian Consumer Law is the main law that exists to protect consumers like yourself and define what rights you have under the law. For example, when you buy products they come with automatic guarantees that they will work, look acceptable and do everything that the average consumer would expect them to do.

It’s the same when you hire or contract someone to provide you with a service. Whether it’s a carpenter or a caterer, you have a guarantee that the service they deliver will provide you with what you requested. It must look acceptable, be safe, and have no faults.

Businesses must guarantee products and services they sell, hire or lease for:

  • under $40 000
  • over $40 000 if the item or service is bought for personal or domestic (household) use.

Free Repair

Having a guarantee like this under the law puts you in a strong position to assert your rights to have a free repair to make things right. Where you only have a minor problem with a product or service, the business normally can choose to give you a free repair instead of a replacement or refund. Give them an opportunity to do this before you demand a refund.

If the business fails to give you a free repair within a reasonable time, or cannot fix your problem, you can:

  • get it done somewhere else and pass on the costs to the business at fault (and keep those receipts!)
  • ask for a replacement
  • ask for a refund
  • recover compensation for the drop in value below the price paid.

When you have a major problem with a product, you have the right to choose between a replacement and a refund. For a major problem with a service, you can choose to receive compensation for any drop in value below the price paid, or a refund.

And retailers can’t refuse to help you or send you on a wild goose chase by directing you to the manufacturer or importer to sort things out. The retailer must take responsibility! Many consumers find it easier to firstly write to a retailer when they have more than a minor complaint. Here’s a great template for a complaint letter if you’re not a great writer of letters.

Businesses also break the law when they tell you that they do not give refunds under any circumstances. That’s rubbish because it doesn’t matter whether it’s a gift card you bought or even if what you purchased was on sale, you still get a guarantee and the rights mentioned above of repair, replacement or refund. If you see a sign saying “No Refunds”, this is also not true under the consumer law.

Your rights for any consumer guarantee do not have a actual expiry date, but it’s best to be prompt and make your concern know to the retailer or service provider as soon as things don’t look right.

What is a warranty?

Occasionally you might even be given something called a warranty, which is simply a voluntary promise offered by the person or business who sold the product or service to you. These warranties or promises, whether verbal or in writing, normally are about the quality or standard of what you’ve bought. For example, the retailer may say or give you a document that states (or warrantees) your new toaster will work well for 5 years or that the store will have parts and service if something goes wrong in that time.

The Australian Consumer Law requires manufacturers and suppliers to stick to any warranties that they give. If the supplier or manufacturer fails to follow through you will still have rights against them under the Australian Consumer Law. So if you get given a warranty that’s all hot air and no action, your guarantee is still valid under the law.

What exactly is acceptable?

Products must be of acceptable quality, that is:

  • safe, lasting, with no faults
  • look acceptable
  • do all the things someone would normally expect them to do.

Acceptable quality takes into account what would normally be expected for the type of product and cost. So a brand name vacuum cleaner is going to have a higher level of acceptable quality than something from the $2 store.

man with antique-vacuumProducts must also:

  • match descriptions made by the salesperson, on packaging and labels, and in promotions or advertising
  • match any demonstration model or sample you asked for
  • be fit for the purpose the business told you it would be fit for (for example, if someone sells you outdoor furniture and it quickly falls to bits in the weather…it clearly isn’t of acceptable quality)
  • come with full title and ownership
  • not carry any hidden debts or extra charges
  • come with undisturbed possession, so no one has a right to take the goods away or prevent you from using them
  • meet any extra promises made about performance, condition and quality, such as life time guarantees and money back offers
  • have spare parts and repair facilities available for a reasonable time after purchase unless you were told otherwise.

Services must:

  • be provided with acceptable care and skill or technical knowledge and taking all necessary steps to avoid loss and damage
  • be fit for the purpose or give the results that you and the service provider had agreed to
  • be delivered within a reasonable time when there is no agreed end date.

And when it comes to these things don’t fall for the “she’ll be right” approach from tradies or service providers, make sure ALL the details about a job are in writing and signed by both you the provider. And keep that agreement/contract in a safe place.

Consumer guarantees on products and services also apply to:

  • bundled products and services
  • gifts with proof of purchase
  • sale items
  • online products and services bought from Australian businesses
  • second-hand products from businesses, taking into account age and condition.

Exceptions to guarantees

Consumer guarantees don’t apply if you:

  • got what you asked for but simply changed your mind, found it cheaper somewhere else, decided you did not like the purchase or had no use for it
  • misused a product in any way that caused the problem
  • knew of or were made aware of the faults before you bought the product
  • asked for a service to be done in a certain way against the advice of the business
  • were unclear about what you wanted

Rights to a repair, replacement, refund, cancellation or compensation do not apply to items:

  • worth more than $40 000 purely for business use, such as machinery or farming equipment
  • you plan to on-sell or change so that you can re-supply as a business
  • bought as a one-off from a private seller, for example at a garage sale or fete
  • bought at auction where the auctioneer acted as an agent for the owner

If you are still having difficulty resolving a problem, you may want to seek assistance. The best place for where to go for consumer help will depend on your circumstances.