Settlement Guide

What are your consumer rights in Australia?

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Consumers in Australia have certain rights and protections under the Australian Consumer Law which protects them in case things go wrong with their purchase.

It’s not rare for newly arrived migrants like Jing Wang to be left disappointed even with big purchases, such as cars.

“We purchased a very expensive car, but the engine broke down in only three weeks. It was a brand-new car. This is not fair to us.”

Key points

  • Consumer guarantees apply to goods and services purchased by consumers under the Australian Consumer Law.
  • The consumer guarantees automatically apply regardless of any voluntary or extended warranty given by a seller or manufacturer.
  • From 1 July 2021, the threshold amount for goods or services purchased will increase to $100,000.

Newly-arrived migrants more vulnerable to consumer law breaches

Olivia Nguy from the Liverpool Migrant Resources Centre regularly meets newly-arrived migrants like Jing, who have complaints regarding consumer goods and services.

Black woman with broken down car
Consumer guarantees protect buyers against faulty or substandard goods and services under the Australian Consumer Law.
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She says most people complain about utility contracts often signed following cold calling or door knocking, which can be confusing.

“There are also quite common issues with phone and internet providers – not knowing what the terms are and then wanting to break from the contract and not knowing that there’s a whole host of fees attached with,” she says.

Denis Nelthorpe is the CEO of Westjustice, a community legal centre in Melbourne, mostly assisting new arrivals from non-English speaking backgrounds with issues related to consumer law.

Mr Nelthorpe warns that there are unscrupulous businesses that he believes target newly-arrived migrants.

There are people who know that it will be easier to get newly arrived to sign contracts or entering into arrangements without asking the appropriate questions.

Consumer guarantees

Olivia Nguy from the Liverpool Migrant Resources Centre says that a combination of low English language skills, as well as a lack of in-language information, can lead new migrants to accept misleading claims.

Australian Consumer Law provides protection for shoppers by requiring businesses to provide guarantees for the quality of their products.

A family in an electronic goods showroom.
Under the consumer guarantees, the seller is required to provide the buyer with a remedy if the goods or services are faulty or substandard.
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Guarantees cover goods under $40,000 and those over that amount used for personal or household use. Products must be safe, lasting and not faulty. Services must be provided with acceptable care and skill and be fit for service.

The threshold amount for goods or services purchased will increase to $100,000 on 1 July 2021.  

Making a complaint

If you need to make a complaint, there are step-by-step processes that start with contacting the seller or service provider to explain the problem.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – also known as the ACCC – promotes fair trading under the Australian Consumer Law.

ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard explains.  

When you buy a product or a service and it doesn’t do what they said it would do, is not of acceptable quality, it turns out to be really dangerous, you have rights to go back to where you bought it from and get it repaired, or get a refund or a replacement.

ACCC’s website provides information and publications for non-English speakers.

The ACCC acknowledges that a lack of English can be a disadvantage but Delia Rickard says that information about consumer rights is available in many languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Dari and Dinka.

“So, if you go to the ACCC’s  website you see the link on the home page to information for non-English speakers and you find publications there really going through all your consumer guarantee rights.”

Consumer law
The threshold amount for consumer guarantees is rising to $100,000 from 1 July 2021.
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Making consumer rights work can still be a struggle and some businesses and dishonest service providers can be very difficult to deal with. If your justified complaints are being ignored or you are getting the run-around, Delia Rickard has this advice.

“If they don’t listen to your complaints, you should go to your local Fair Trading agency, if they refuse to deal with you, I would go to the Human Rights Commission because that sounds like it might be racial discrimination.”

A mobile phone App, launched by the ACCC, provides useful consumer information in a portable format.

It has answers to questions like ‘When can I get a refund?’ what are my rights and helps with writing a complaint letter or email to a company. Delia Rickard says it’s a powerful tool against unfair business practices.

If that doesn't work, says Delia Rickard, then it's best to go directly to the ACCC and lodge a formal consumer complaint.