State Regulator Outlines Consumer Protection Priorities for 2017-18

Consumers’ Federation of Australia welcomes the following statement of priorities from WA Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection, David Hillyard. The original statement can be found here

We’re in a new financial year and Consumer Protection has considered previous complaint trends and emerging issues to help decide priorities for the 12 months ahead.

It’s not always possible to predict problems that will arise in the marketplace, however in a number of areas there are some obvious pointers we can act on.

We call this work compliance and enforcement. It involves a mixture of activities depending on the seriousness of the matter being looked at. This can range from prosecution of individuals or businesses and issuing public warnings, to conciliation of unresolved disputes between buyers and sellers and education of both consumers and traders concerning their legal rights and responsibilities.

I wanted to communicate to the Western Australian public what we intend to focus on for the next year.

We will particularly be looking at misconduct and educating traders about their responsibilities in the following sectors and industries:

Home improvement sector

We will focus on tradespeople who carry out unregulated building and construction work.

The issues include:

  • unsolicited consumer agreements where the person came out to quote but had the consumer agree to the job on the spot, essentially not giving people a cooling off period; and
  • accepting payment for work and failing to commence or complete the job or provide a refund.

Solar industry

We will focus on unfair contract terms, misrepresentations in relation to the benefits of solar products, and ongoing concerns relating to unsolicited consumer agreements (cooling off periods amongst other matters).

Solar panels remain the second most common item complained about to the Retail, Building and Services Branch in 2016/17. Misrepresentations associated with the efficiency of the solar panel systems remains an issue.

Consumer Protection will also focus on any misconduct in relation to the relatively new technology available for battery storage.

Pet industry

We will target unscrupulous and unlawful activities relating to domestic pet sales.

Product safety

Technical breaches relating to regulated products account for more than 70 per cent of the issues identified during product safety inspections. Many are identified at discount variety stores or ‘pop-up’ stalls.  We will increase enforcement action and issue on the spot fines where there is continued non-compliance.

We will focus on issues impacting young children including:

  • button batteries in toys and novelty items;
  • water expanding polymer balls promoted as sensory and learning tools;
  • toppling furniture; and
  • quad bike use in WA – working in conjunction with other government agencies.

We will work with child care centres and similar providers to reiterate our messages.

Motor vehicle industry

Vehicle manufacturers take a consistent position that if a vehicle is ‘written off’ as a total loss, the manufacturer’s warranty is void. However, our position is that only the damaged component which caused the vehicle to be written off (e.g. paint work, body panels etc.) should be excluded from the warranty and not all other components.

We will focus on the guarantee rights under the Australian Consumer Law, particularly in how it interacts with manufacturer’s warranties.

We will be proactive with our inspections; targeting dealers and repairers posing the highest consumer risk or demonstrating continued non-compliance or alleged corrupt conduct.

We will also target false and misleading representations regarding odometer readings and vehicle identification number (VIN) discrepancies, as identified.

Many recent investigations and enforcement actions have been taken in relation to unlicensed dealing and repairing. A number of people we look at may not be aware of, or appreciate, the licensing laws, so we will focus on community education to increase awareness and encourage people who are selling cars or fixing them to become licensed.

Scams and socially engineered fraud

We will continue our education, prevention, liaison and disruption activities. This financial year sees a revamp of our WA ScamNet website which was first launched in 2002 and relaunched in 2011.