Basic consumer rights

What are consumer rights?

In Australia, we have some robust consumer protection laws in place to ensure that you – a consumer of goods and services – are not ripped off. These laws protect the consumer from unfair fraud, commercial or advertising practices, as well as from unsafe products. These are known as your basic consumer rights. They are designed to give you a fair go, not to you if you are careless or make unreasonable demands.

Whether you’re buying from a big-chain retailer, a local boutique or online store, these consumer laws apply.

Consumer rights

What do consumer rights mean for business?

As a business owner, all of your goods and services must be of an acceptable quality and free from defects, match the provided description, meet any express warranties and be fit for purpose for which it was intended.

Under these consumer rights, businesses are obliged to repair or replace a product that is defective or does not live up to expectations.

Breaching consumer rights

As well as this, misleading advertising comes into play. Businesses are breaching consumer rights and protection laws if they:

  • use misleading advertising for example, advertise something that isn’t available for sale or not available at the advertised price
  • provide misleading representations about goods such as telling a customer that a particular item has some quality, which it doesn’t
  • give the impression that goods are made by a particular manufacturer or in a particular country when they are not.

Some of the most examples of consumer roadblocks that we see used extensively and unlawfully include offering unnecessary extended warranties, guaranteed deliveries that do not arrive in time and inaccurate ‘no refunds’ signs. These types of practices are against the law and contradict Australia’s consumer rights laws.

What do consumer rights laws cover?

If your basic consumer rights have been breached – such as, you have suffered loss, damage or injury because of an unsafe or faulty product – you may be able to make a claim for compensation.

There are a few different examples of compensation could include:

  • replacement and repair costs
  • medical costs (including future costs)
  • lost income
  • pain, suffering and lost enjoyment of life
  • home help and attendant care.
Consumer protection laws

What is not covered under these laws?

It is important note that there are exceptions to these laws. For example:

  • consumer guarantees do not apply to goods or services costing more than $40 000 that are normally used for business purposes.
  • consumer guarantees only apply to goods and services purchased on or after 1 January 2011. Purchases made before this time may be covered by the laws that applied before 1 January 2011.
  • buying from an overseas online seller may mean you are not covered by the guarantees. There may also be practical difficulties in obtaining a remedy from an overseas-based seller.

As well as this, as mentioned earlier, these laws are here to give you a fair go – not enable you to get out of a purchase you no longer want. As such, you are unlikely to be covered by these consumer rights and quality for a remedy you:

  • change your mind, decide you do not like your purchase or have no use for it
  • damage or use goods in an unreasonable or unintended manner
  • discover you can buy the goods or services more cheaply elsewhere (unless the seller guarantees that the goods cannot be purchased more cheaply elsewhere)
  • examined the goods before buying and ought to have seen any obvious fault
  • had a defect drawn to your attention before buying (such as goods labelled as seconds with their faults clearly marked)
  • are unhappy with a service that you insisted on having carried out in a particular way
  • did not make clear what service you wanted and what you wanted it to achieve
  • did not rely upon, or unreasonably relied upon, the seller’s skill or judgment when choosing a product or service

What needs to be proven in court?

If you are looking to take a business to court over a breach of the consumer rights law, particularly when it comes to safety, you will need to prove the following:

  • they owed you a ‘duty of care‘ to take ‘reasonable care‘ when manufacturing a product
  • they violated this duty with either inaction or action
  • the failure caused you damage or injury, which will also need to be supported by medical evidence.

More information

It is important you always buy from reputable retailers and online stores that offer secure payment facilities and a clear refund and returns policy. As well as this, we highly recommend consumers should think carefully before paying extra for an extended warranty – put simply, you aren’t necessarily getting any extra protections.

If you are unable to resolve a dispute with the retailer directly, there are options to escalate it higher. These include:

  • making a complaint to an industry body
  • filing a complaint with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT)
  • filing a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
  • lodging a dispute claim with the QCAT.

If you need assistance or have any questions, contact our legal team of solicitors in Brisbane that are highly experienced in consumer protection and product liability. We can help you to work through a range of issues such as, but not limited to, damages or injuries caused by defective products. Get in touch with our team today.