Consumer law

In Australia, consumer laws apply to protect people when they are buying goods or services from a business in person or online. Consumer laws do not apply to every situation in which you buy a product or pay for a service. You can find more information about some common consumer law rights below. Consumer law can be complex, so it is a good idea to seek legal advice if you cannot resolve your problem directly with the seller, supplier or business, by contacting us here.

Refunds, repairs and returns

You can read about your rights in relation to refunds, repairs and returns generally here.

Problems with a product

There are consumer guarantees that apply automatically for products:

  • the product must be of acceptable quality, i.e.:
    • fit for the purpose for which it is commonly used,
    • safe, durable and free from defects, and
    • acceptable in appearance and finish;
  • match the description or sample;
  • be fit for purpose;
  • and be eligible for repairs.

Be aware: consumer guarantees apply regardless of any other warranty.

The remedy provided by a seller or store for failing to meet a consumer guarantee that applies to products will depend on the nature of the problem and whether it is a major or minor problem.

Major problems:

Major problems occur when the product does not do what it is normally supposed to do, the problem cannot easily be fixed within a reasonable time, the product is unsafe, or is a problem that would have precluded the consumer from purchasing the product had they known of the problem beforehand.

Remedies for major problems include refunds, replacements, or compensation. This is at the consumer’s discretion.

Minor problems:

Minor problems are all the problems that are not classified as major problems, or are not significant.

Remedies for minor problems include replacements, repairs, or refunds. This is usually at the store or seller’s discretion. However, if the store fails to provide a suitable remedy within a reasonable time, then the consumer may choose to have the product repaired (elsewhere with costs claimed from the seller or store), or reject the product for a refund or replacement.

Be advised: wear and tear, change of mind, defects the consumer ought to have been aware of prior to purchase, and defects due to abnormal use are not considered major nor minor problems.

You can read more about your rights and remedies available for problems with products here.

Problems with a service

There are consumer guarantees that apply automatically for services:

  • services must be fit for purpose;
  • provided within a reasonable time; and
  • executed with due care and skill, i.e:
    • suppliers use an acceptable level of skill or technical knowledge when providing the services; and
    • suppliers take all necessary care to avoid loss or damage when providing the services.

Be aware: consumer guarantees apply regardless of any other warranty.

The remedy provided by a seller or store for failing to meet a consumer guarantee that applies to services will depend on the nature of the problem and whether it is a major or minor problem.

Major problems:

Major problems occur when the service is not done with due care and skill, the consumer would never have bought the service had they known about how long it would take, the supply of the service has created an unsafe situation, the service has not achieved what the service is normally supposed to do, and this problem cannot be fixed quickly or easily.

Remedies for major problems include cancelling the contract and paying a reasonable amount for the work done (or seeking a partial refund of money already paid), or keeping the contract and negotiating a reduced price for the drop in value of the service. This is at the consumer’s discretion.

Minor problems:

A problem that is not major will be classified as being minor.

Businesses must be given a reasonable opportunity to fix the problem before remedies are sought. If the business refuses to fix the problem or takes too long, the consumer may get it fixed by someone else and recover the costs, or cancel the contract and pay a reasonable amount for the work done, or seek a partial refund of money already paid.

Be aware: a consumer is not entitled to a remedy when a supplier does not meet this consumer guarantee due to something someone else said, did, or failed to do (excluding the supplier’s agent or employee), or beyond human control that happened after the goods or services were supplied.

You can read more about your rights and remedies available for problems with services here.

Shopping online

Your rights and the remedies available if there is a problem when shopping online depend on whether the seller is a business or a private individual, and where the seller is located (Australia or overseas).

You can read about online shopping and consumer law here.

Cars

There are a range of legal problems which can arise around buying, selling, maintaining and using a car. Some common areas where people encounter problems are:

You can read about these areas and more to do with cars here.

How do I resolve a consumer problem?

Step 1

Your first point of contact should be the seller, supplier or business. You should try to resolve the problem with them before you seek legal advice or take any further action. You can use the templates below from Consumer Affairs Victoria to help you write to the people involved.

There is no set ‘reasonable’ time in which a business must resolve your problem, as this will depend on the product or service and the nature of the remedy.

You should allow enough time for the business to receive and reply to your letter or email and to start making arrangements for a remedy. However, it might be worth sending them a reminder letter or email if you do not hear from them within a week.

Step 2

If the business does not resolve the problem, what you do next depends on how you paid for the product or service. Consumer Affairs Victoria explains the following options:

How you paid What to do
Via credit card Contact your bank or credit card provider for a chargeback. This effectively reverses the credit card charge, and is similar to a refund. Act quickly as time limits apply. For more information, view our Chargeback page.

Note: The chargeback process is with your credit card provider, separate from any other dispute resolution process such as those with eBay or PayPal.

Via an online auction house Most auction houses have a dispute resolution service. For example, you can report a problem to eBay’s Resolution Centre up to 45 days after receiving your purchase. If you paid via PayPal, you will be automatically directed from eBay to the PayPal Resolution Centre.
Via PayPal You can file a dispute through PayPal’s Resolution Centre within 180 days of paying for the item.

Note: If your purchase qualifies for PayPal’s Buyer Protection, you are covered for the full purchase price and original shipping costs.

Via online cash transfer If you used an instant cash transfer system (such as Western Union or MoneyGram), or if you deposited your money directly into the seller’s bank account, it can be very difficult to track your money once the seller has collected it.

If you used an instant cash transfer system, you can contact the police who may be able to assist.

Step 3

If you have not been able to resolve the problem through steps 1-2, you can make a complaint to Consumer Affairs Victoria. They may be able to help you resolve the problem with the business.

Step 4

If you have not been able to resolve the problem through steps 1-3, you may be able to make a claim to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (“VCAT”). Time limits may apply for making a claim to VCAT. Before you make a claim, we recommend you contact us for legal advice about your situation here.

Further resources

Templates

Complaint letter/email template (Word, 58KB)

Example letter requesting a refund for a faulty item (Word, 48KB)

Example email requesting a refund for a faulty item bought online (Word, 53KB)

Example letter requesting a remedy for a service (Word, 48KB)

Legal information

Consumer Affairs Victoria: Products & services

Consumer Action Law Centre

VCAT: Goods & services

Australian Consumer Law website

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

ASIC’s Money Smart: Dealing with debt collectors

UMSU Legal Service: Scams

 

The information on this website is not legal advice. It is legal information only. If you require legal advice, please contact the UMSU Legal Service here.

Last updated: 7 June 2019