How does the Law Protect Me as a Consumer?
Every consumer transaction is based on Contract Law. The consumer is agreeing to purchase goods and service; in return, the seller is agreeing to provide these goods and service. This contract is controlled by the Sale of Goods Act 1978 (as amended in 2002). This law gives you certain rights under this contract.
Goods purchased should be:
- Of a satisfactory quality (of a standard that a reasonable person would consider to be satisfactory - generally free from fault or defect, as well as being fit for their usual purpose, of a reasonable appearance and finish, safe and durable);
- Fit for the purpose for which they are generally sold, and also fit for any specific or particular purpose made known at the time of the agreement;
- As described (either verbally, in words or pictures on a sign, packaging or an advert).
The Supply of Services (Implied Terms) Act 2003, applies to tradesmen and service providers including the insurance, plumbing, and electrical industries, to name a few. For all services purchased:
- Work must be done with reasonable care and skill;
- Work must be carried out within a reasonable time;
- The party contracting with the supplier will pay a reasonable charge.
Outlined in our “After You Buy” section on this site is the general process of seeking resolution from a business or service provider and includes stages such as verbally requesting redress from the company, formally requesting redress in writing to the company, seeking mediation by Consumer Affairs, and finally, bringing the matter to the courts to resolve.
Consumer Affairs itself cannot prosecute businesses for offences to the above Acts because they are a matter of civil law. Civil law is concerned with the rights and duties between individuals (the consumer and business in this case); resolution is usually found in a financial settlement for breach of contract.
On the other hand, criminal law is concerned with offences that are against the public and those that break the law are likely to be prosecuted by the state on behalf of the public. One such acts is the the Consumer Protection Act 1999, which is enforceable by Consumer Affairs.
The Consumer Protection Act 1999 protects consumers from the following:
- Unfair business practices (including false or misleading representations to consumers about products and services);
- Unconscionable acts (including excessively one-sided contracts that benefit only the trader, grossly overpriced products, and entering into a contract with a consumer who lacks the capacity to understand it);
- Unsafe consumer goods.
Any person or business who contravenes the Act is subject to prosecution, and upon conviction can be given up to a $15,000 fine and/or serve up to 12 months in prison.