The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently announced its compliance and enforcement priorities for 2023-2024, delivered by its Chair, Ms Gina Cass-Gottlieb. The priorities provide an insight into the key areas that the regulator will be focusing on this coming year, building upon the previous edition delivered by former Chair Mr Rod Sims 12 months ago. The rising cost of living and vulnerability of consumers informs many of the priorities, a number of which will directly impact the corporate and commercial sector. Businesses should consider the announcements as an opportunity to identify aspects of their operations that may require further attention, and to proactively mitigate future corporate compliance risks.
Unfair contract terms and consumer guarantees
One of the key focuses will be the enforcement of the new changes to the unfair contract terms regime coming into effect on 10 November 2023. From this date harsh penalties will apply for non-compliance in standard form contracts, with the protections having been expanded to apply to more small businesses. The ACCC has already begun undertaking a review of business terms and conditions across a number of different sectors. Businesses will need to act now to avoid potential exposure.
You may refer to our previous article, ‘Change is coming to the Australian Competition and Consumer Law: civil penalties to increase and be introduced for unfair contract terms’ detailing these changes.
The ACCC has also renewed its call for law reform relating to the enforcement of consumer rights when a product or service is faulty, to make a businesses’ non-compliance with consumer guarantee obligations illegal. Businesses should review their policies and procedures to ensure they are compliant with the consumer guarantee regime, particularly those operating within the regulator’s identified area of focus being high value goods including motor vehicles and caravans.
Digital platforms and marketing practices
The ACCC remains focused on protecting Australian consumers buying and selling online, including the role of digital platforms in providing information to customers, data collection and practices designed to sign consumers up to unfavourable terms. The Digital Platform Services Inquiry report released by the ACCC in November 2022 recommended new service-specific mandatory codes of conduct for certain designated digital platforms, which would regulate anti-competitive behaviour harming consumers and business users.
There is also an emphasis on common manipulative sales techniques including difficulties to unsubscribe from a paid service, the use of data to exploit individual characteristics in making a sale and the manipulation of online reviews. Recently the ACCC has cracked down on misleading testimonials and endorsements by social media ‘influencers’, due to their failure to disclose if there is any commercial motivation behind their posts.
Finally, a new internal taskforce has been established to broaden the ACCC’s approach to the regulation of environmental and sustainability claims, expanding to areas such as product safety.
A full list of the 2023-24 enforcement and compliance priorities and policy can be found here.
The full speech by ACCC Chair Ms Gina Cass-Gottlieb can be found here.
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