We all understand the frustration of a bad customer experience, but how many of us really know our rights and how to exercise them when things go wrong?

Thankfully, federal legislation does provide solid protection for consumers (provided that the definition of ‘consumer’ is met) under the Australian Consumer Law, as set out in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) (“the Act”). This establishes automatic guarantees for purchases of goods and services from Australian suppliers, importers or manufacturers.

While it covers the vast majority of transactions, to qualify for the protection of these guarantees, you must first fall within the definition of ‘consumer’.

Under the Act, you are considered to be a consumer if you have purchased, hired or leased goods or services for:

  1. less than $40,000.00;
  2. over $40,000.00 provided that the good or service is normally purchased for personal, domestic or household use;
  3. the principal use of transporting goods when the purchase consists of a vehicle or trailer.

If the definition of ‘consumer’ is satisfied, what is guaranteed?

If you have purchased a good, you are generally guaranteed:

  1. that the good is of acceptable quality;
  2. full title and ownership;
  3. undisturbed possession with no undisclosed securities;
  4. that the item is fit for any disclosed purpose and matches its description and any demonstration or sample model.

In the period following the supply of the product, manufacturers must also make repair facilities and parts reasonably available, while also upholding any express warranties.

Where a service is purchased you are generally guaranteed that it will be:

  1. provided with due care and skill;
  2. supplied within a reasonable period of time; and
  3. reasonably fit for the intended purpose.

What happens if the consumer guarantees are not met?

If a business fails to meet a consumer guarantee, you may have a right to ask for:

  1. a repair, replacement or refund;
  2. cancellation of a service; and/or
  3. compensation for damages and loss.

The remedies available for failure to meet a guarantee are subject to certain exceptions and will depend on whether the issue is classified as ‘major’ or ‘minor’ under the Act.

Dealing with businesses

It is important to know your rights when dealing with businesses may try to avoid meeting their consumer obligations.

Firstly, be wary of any claims that the guarantees do not apply, as these are general protections and cannot be ignored by businesses in any way.

Whilst businesses may try to avoid providing you with a remedy, if you are aware of your rights under the Act, you may achieve a better outcome.

Keep the following points in mind:

  • A manufacturer may provide you with a separate warranty with respect to a good but you have the added general protections of the Act available to you.
  • The retailer who sells you the product must help with a remedy if it turns out to be faulty. They cannot claim that the good is out of warranty or that it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to help you and not theirs.
  • Sale items are covered by consumer guarantees so if the good is faulty, you have the same rights — it makes no difference if you pay a discounted price.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that change of mind returns are not covered under the Act, although stores may choose to offer these.

Exercising your rights

If you encounter difficulties when dealing with businesses, then you can try to resolve it directly with the retailer using this ACCC complaint letter tool. If that fails, contact a consumer protection agency, such as the South Australian Ombudsman, or make a report with the ACCC.

The laws regarding consumer rights and remedies are robust and designed to provide good protections against getting ripped off. For further information visit the ACCC website.