In October 2018, Consumer Credit Legal Service WA (CCLSWA) received funding from the Consumer Protection division of the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) for a 12-month law reform project. The project focused on four areas of law and policy that affect Western Australian consumers:
- Retirement village schemes
- Motor vehicle industry
- Australian Consumer Law with a focus on lemon laws
- New and emerging issues with a focus on debt vultures and regional areas
The findings and recommendations are based on engagement with stakeholders, consumers, interstate colleagues and extensive research. CCLSWA discovered that a significant amount of consumer detriment exists in WA. Robust regulation is required to protect consumers against the practices that exploit and cause detriment.
Summary of Recommendations
1. Retirement Villages
A power imbalance exists between residents and operators in the current retirement village system in WA. The system is not sensitive to the vulnerabilities of residents and does not provide sufficient transparency.
- Enhanced prudential supervision of retirement villages to protect residents’ exit entitlements
- Improved dispute resolution mechanisms in the retirement village sector
2. Motor Vehicles
Dealers are taking advantage of consumers with unfair sales tactics and harsh unjustified penalties in the motor vehicle industry. Consumer protections need to be improved.
- The introduction of a cooling off period
- The current 15% pre-estimated liquidated damages amount be reduced to 5%
- That dealer warranties provisions in the Motor Vehicles Dealers Act 1973 (WA) be retained
3. Australian Consumer Law
For consumers unlucky enough to end up with defective vehicles (lemons), securing a remedy from dealers or manufacturers under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) is often fraught with frustration and tension.
- The introduction of nationwide lemon laws to address the inequities that arise when consumers purchase lemons
- These lemon laws should apply to new and used vehicles
- The legislation should be amended with respect to consumer guarantees to allow consumers their choice of remedy where goods fail to meet consumer guarantees within a short period of time after purchase or delivery
- The onus of proof should be reversed where consumers allege there has been a major failure – requiring suppliers to demonstrate their was no breach of consumer guarantees at the time of supply.
- That a separate tribunal be established to deal with disputes about faulty motor vehicles.
4. Emerging Issues
Consumer advocates attach the description ‘Debt Vultures’ to predatory providers of expensive but useless debt management firms and credit services, who target vulnerable consumers.
- Consumer Protection embark on an extensive awareness raising campaign to shed light on the nature of Debt Vultures and their impact
- That there be a licensing requirement for Debt Vultures regulated by the State
- Consumer Protection consider using the general provisions of the ACL regarding particular types of Debt Vulture conduct
CCLSWA conducted several regional outreach trips in the course of the law reform project. We discovered several emerging issues in the area of consumer law in these regional areas.
- Consumer Protection carefully monitor the impact schemes such as ‘Book-up’ and the cashless debit card have on vulnerable consumers
- Consumer Protection have a robust awareness raising campaign into the dealings of these businesses particularly in the regional areas
- A bigger presence by Consumer Protection in the regional areas
- That government increase action and funding for regional engagement
Read the full report here.