Businesses should brace themselves for greater enforcement of the Australian Consumer Law by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) following the Federal Government’s announcement that it will roll out the first phase of a “super complaints” process for advocacy groups.
As it currently stands, there is no formal process in place for advocacy groups (such as CHOICE) to make complaints to the ACCC. These groups are treated like any other person wishing to make a complaint to the ACCC. They stand in the queue with thousands of other complaints the ACCC receives each year. However, from July 2024, a designated complaints mechanism will be introduced whereby certain consumer and small business advocacy groups nominated by the responsible Government minister will have the right to submit complaints to the ACCC where they have strong evidence of systemic issues under our consumer laws.
Very little is known at this stage about the exact process or the groups that will be nominated as recipients of these “super complaint” powers. The Federal Government has indicated that it will release further details of this initiative in coming months.
However, a “super complaints” concept is not entirely new. A similar mechanism has operated in the UK for almost two decades and it certainly seems that the Federal Government has drawn on that experience in proposing an Australian version of such a process. In 2021, an Australian Productivity Commission report1 also recommended that the Government should enable designated consumer groups to lodge “super complaints” to the ACCC on systemic issues.
The Productivity Commission’s report noted that consumers often find it difficult to exercise their rights under consumer guarantees and that it is largely left to consumers to be aware of their rights and be willing to pursue a remedy, which is often too costly and complex for many consumers to pursue. In recommending a “super complaints” mechanism, the Productivity Commission proposed that, once a complaint is lodged with the ACCC by a consumer group, it should be fast tracked by the ACCC, who should then be required to provide a response within a specified period (e.g. 90 days) as to how it intends to deal with the complaint and whether any action will be taken.
Whilst the Productivity Commission report was focused on consumer guarantees, based on the Federal Government’s recent announcements, it appears that the scope of these “super complaints” rights may extend further to include other areas of our consumer laws e.g. unfair contract terms and misleading and deceptive conduct.
This new process for complaints heightens the ever-present need for businesses to prioritise compliance with the Australian consumer laws. In particular, we recommend that businesses:
- review their standard terms and conditions for compliance with consumer laws;
- ensure that their policies and procedures (e.g. for returns of goods and ways in which to promote discounted pricing) are compliant with consumer laws; and
- conduct a review of their performance to ensure that their policies and procedures are being followed in practice.
For more information contact the Addisons Competition, Consumer & Antitrust team.
1 Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, Right to Repair: Overview & Recommendations, No 97, 29 October 2021