Consumer Dispute Lawyers located in Geelong, Torquay and Melbourne
Both consumers and suppliers should be aware of their rights and obligations in the course of purchasing and supplying goods or services.
The source of those rights and obligations are numerous, and vary depending on the particular transaction. The Australian Consumer Law (‘ACL’) is one, important, source.
What is the Australian Consumer Law?
The ACL is legislation that applies throughout Australia which, amongst other things, provides significant protections to “consumers” in relation to the acquisition of goods or services. These protections are known as “consumer guarantees”.
These phrases have particular legal meanings, which are described further below.
Importantly, the consumer guarantees cannot be excluded or restricted, even with the agreement of the consumer. However, suppliers can in some cases limit the available remedy (such as replacement or repair).
What are the consumer guarantees?
Some of the key consumer guarantees include:
- The case of goods, that the goods supplied will be of “acceptable quality”. In general terms, this means that the goods must be fit for purpose, acceptable in appearance and finish, free from defects, and safe and durable. Goods must also correspond to any description provided by the supplier, and to any sample or demonstration model shown prior to purchase.
- In the case of services, that those services are provided with “due care and skill”, and within a “reasonable time” (if no time is otherwise agreed).
What types of transactions do the consumer guarantees apply to?
The consumer guarantees apply to transactions for the supply of goods or services to a “consumer”.
The terms “goods” and “services” are intended to be broad, and include transactions relating to vehicles, boats, clothing, animals, plants, utilities, software, meals and service contracts (including loans and other banking contracts).
A person is presumed to be a “consumer” of goods and services for these purposes provided that:
- the amount paid for the goods or services did not exceed $40,000.00
- the goods or services were of a kind that are ordinarily acquired for person, domestic or household use or consumption.
Therefore, if price paid for the goods or services acquired exceeds $40,000.00, you will still be able to rely upon the consumer guarantees provided those goods or services are ordinarily acquired for personal use (say, for example, a motor vehicle).
Note, however, the status of “consumer” is lost including where the goods or services were acquired for re-supply. If you do not meet the definition of “consumer”, read further below.
What rights do consumers have if a supplier has breached the consumer guarantees?
If a supplier has failed to fulfil its obligations under the consumer guarantees, consumers are entitled to a remedy under the ACL.
The available remedy will depend on the particular situation, but includes a refund and compensation. Suppliers can also be exposed to penalties.
If you are a consumer, and the supplier disputes that it has breached the consumer guarantees, you are entitled to seek your remedy via a court, or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. You may also seek assistance from Consumer Affairs Victoria.
What if I am not a “consumer”?
Never mind, this does not mean that the supplier does not owe you any obligations at all. The supplier will still have obligations under a contract with you, even absent a written contract.
I am a consumer in a dispute with a supplier, do I need a lawyer?
The short answer is “it depends”. Many consumer and trader disputes are heard and determined in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, a jurisdiction that is designed to be user-friendly. In fact, in some cases, you have no automatic entitlement to be represented in VCAT proceedings. However, whether you are a consumer or a trader, the ACL can be a minefield, as can the litigious process. Our team is fully equipped to provide you with expert assistance, whether it be representation, or advice concerning your rights and obligations.