Consumer Complaints | Consumer Rights in Victoria | Barwon CLS

Consumer Rights

The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.

Learn more about your consumer rights in Victoria

When you buy a product or service, you’re entitled to expect that it will work as intended. You’re entitled to know what you’re getting. And you’re entitled to receive what you bought.

These are basic guarantees that apply to any product or service that you buy (except in certain situations). Whether you’re buying a car or a pen, you’re covered. Whether you engage a lawyer, a plumber or a lawn-mowing service, you’re covered.

Who is a consumer?

Consumers are people who buy products and services for personal use. It means we’re all consumers. We buy toothpaste, pairs of socks, groceries, get haircuts or get our cars serviced.

It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on a product or service. As long as the product is for your personal or household use, you’re still a consumer. You have rights in respect of the goods and services that you buy.

What are consumer rights?

If you buy a product or service that doesn’t meet consumer guarantees, you can ask for a repair, replacement or refund, depending on the problem. These are your consumer rights.

What is the Australian Consumer Law?

Australian Consumer Law is also known as ACL. It applies to all situations in Australia in which you buy goods or services as a consumer. The ACL exists to protect you from practices and problems including:

  • Unfair or misleading sales tactics
  • Pressure selling over the phone
  • Pressure selling door-to-door
  • Harsh or unfair contract terms
  • Unsafe products
  • Poor quality products

The ACL has a series of consumer guarantees, which detail consumer protections. Consumers are entitled to compensation or a refund if a business doesn’t follow these laws.

Victoria has adopted the Australian Consumer Law as its consumer protection laws. The same laws apply in Victoria as the rest of Australia.

Consumer guarantees form the backbone of Australian consumer law.

  • Any product or service that you buy, hire or lease for personal use is covered by the consumer guarantees
  • Any product or service that you buy, hire or lease for business use is covered by the consumer guarantees, if the product or service is valued at less than $40,000
  • Vehicles and trailers used for transporting goods are covered by the consumer guarantees, regardless of their value

When you buy a product, the consumer guarantees require the seller to guarantee that the product:

  • Is of fair quality
  • Is fit for purpose
  • Matches the description
  • Matches the sample, floor or demonstration model

The seller must also guarantee:

  • To honour any warranties
  • That you will have the title (ownership) to the goods
  • That no one else has a right to claim ownership or possession of the goods
  • There’s no loan or other finance against the goods

Manufacturers must give similar guarantees, and must provide repairs and spare parts within a reasonable time.

If you’re buying services, for example seeing a lawyer, paying someone to do your gardening or getting a haircut, the service provider must guarantee that they provide services:

  • With appropriate care and skill
  • That you’re asking them to provide and which are appropriate in the circumstances
  • Within a reasonable time

However, guarantees don’t apply to financial services and insurance services, because different laws cover these services.

For more information about consumer guarantees, see the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) handbook Consumer Guarantees: A Guide for Consumers.

Australian Consumer Law says that a business must not mislead a customer about the nature, manufacturing, features, suitability or quantity of a product or service.

Misleading someone about a product or service can happen in many different ways. For example:

  • A hairdresser told you they were fully qualified, but they weren’t
  • A salesperson told you a television had free lifetime access to a streaming service, but the access was only for a year
  • A vacuum cleaner salesperson told you there was a cooling-off period for your new vacuum cleaner, but there wasn’t

These types of behaviours are sometimes known as false or misleading representations.

Other examples of false or misleading representations include:

  • A business advertising a low-quality product as being of a much higher quality
  • A car dealer claiming a used car had one previous owner when it had three previous owners
  • A product advertised as new when it was second-hand
  • A business advertising a false testimonial from a person who claimed to use its services, but never had
  • A business claiming a there were plenty of spare parts for a product in stock when there were none
  • A travel agency advertised a trip for a specific price, but then claimed a higher price when a customer tried to book the trip
  • Claiming that a product was made in Australia from Australian materials when in fact it was made in Australia from imported materials
  • An airconditioning service company telling a customer they needed to buy replacement cooling pads, when in fact the customer didn’t need the cooling pads
  • A business telling a customer that no warranty applied to their product when there was a 12-month warranty

If you wish to complain about a product or service, you should:

  1. Understand your rights

Find out more information about your legal rights.

Consumer Affairs Victoria has excellent information and is a good starting point for many different types of products and services.

  1. Contact the business

Telephone the business, tell them you believe you were misled, tell them why you think so, and ask for a refund, replacement or repair.

  1. Write a letter

If you don’t get the result you’re seeking, write a letter or email to the business. You need to detail:

  • What product or service you bought
  • The problem
  • What you’ve done to try and sort out the issue
  • What you want the business to do about it (for example, refund, repair or replacement)

Consumer Affairs Victoria has a handy template to help you write a letter, as well as some example letters

The Consumer Action Law Centre also has templates for various types of complaint letters

  1. Seek legal advice

If the business doesn’t make you an offer that you’re willing to accept, you will need to get some legal advice about your options.

For free legal advice, you can contact us.

We can make an appointment with you to talk about your situation and help you work out what to do next. In limited circumstances, we may be able to represent you as our client to try and resolve the issue.

Other organisations which may be able to provide free legal advice are:

  1. Seek a chargeback

If you paid for a product or service by credit card, loan or another payment service, you might be able to contact your bank, credit card company or payment service to seek a chargeback. A chargeback is a reversal of a transaction and is sometimes allowed when you raise a dispute about the transaction.

Whether you can use a chargeback depends on how you paid for the product or service and your financial institution’s terms and conditions.

For further information, see our page on Debt and financial issues.

  1. Take legal action

If no other avenue has been successful, you may need to take legal action, especially if there’s a lot of money involved. There may be time limits on when you can make a claim, that is why it is a good idea to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

You can file a goods and services dispute against the business in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Visit the VCAT website for more information about what’s involved in making a legal claim.

Consumer complaints can be resolved in many different ways, depending on:

  • Whether the issue is major or minor
  • Whether it involves a product or service
  • The nature of the problem

You’re eligible to make a complaint if it arises from a business’s failure to comply with a consumer guarantee.

Resolving consumer complaints tend to focus on the three Rs: refund, replacement or repair.

You can use this flowchart to help work out how your issue may be resolved:

Source: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

If you wish to take legal action because you’re unhappy with a product or service and you haven’t been able to resolve the issue, you need to be aware of the time limits for taking action under Australian Consumer Law. Once the time limit has passed, it’s unlikely that a court will allow you to make a legal claim.

  • You have six years to make a legal claim if you were misled, taken advantage of, or the contract had harsh or unfair terms
  • You have either a ‘reasonable time’ or up to three years to make a legal claim if the product or service was of poor quality, unsafe, or caused you an injury. The amount of time depends on the nature of the problem or injury. The time period starts from the time you became aware of the problem
  • You need to seek legal advice immediately for any product or service that has a cooling-off period, for example, a used car or a purchase from a door-to-door salesperson or telemarketer

If you’re concerned about the time limit for a claim, seek legal advice as soon as possible.

If you buy a second-hand product, the guarantee will apply, but the standards won’t be as high. The age, condition and price of the goods may lower the standard. Because the goods are already used, it’s not reasonable to expect they will be held to the same standards as a new product.

For second-hand products, “buyer beware” is good advice.

If you’re given goods or services, for example, a present or gift voucher, you have the same consumer rights as someone who buys the goods or services for themselves.

If a salesperson gives you the wrong information about a product or service, they are creating a false or misleading impression. It doesn’t matter whether it was intentional or unintentional.

Statements by businesses (or their salespeople) must not create a false impression.

Any information provided to a consumer must be correct. The exception to this is if a business makes a claim that is so exaggerated or embellished that no one would ever believe it was true. For example, The greatest tofu burger the world has ever known.

If you discover that a salesperson gave you wrong information,  you are protected by the Consumer Guarantees.

You can follow the steps outlined in What can I do if I was misled about a product or service? to try and resolve the issue to your satisfaction.

If you’ve bought something online from an Australian business, the Consumer Guarantees will apply. These guarantees include your right to ask for a refund, repair, replacement, or even to cancel the transaction, which may be useful to you if the goods never arrived.

However, if you buy something online from an overseas business, you will need to sort out the issue by using the consumer protection laws of that country.

If your purchase hasn’t arrived, or if it’s not what you ordered, a first step is to email the business outlining the problem and telling them how you want them to fix it. These templates may help you write your email:

For credit card payments, or payments through payment services such as eBay or PayPal, you can also contact your bank or the payment service and ask for the payment to be cancelled or reversed. For more information, see our page on Debt and financial issues.

To learn more about protecting your rights, visit the ACCC’s online shopping page.

Sometimes, a salesperson knocks on your front door or telephones you to convince you to buy their product or service. If you agree to buy, you’re entering into an agreement known in law as an unsolicited consumer agreement.

This type of selling is legal, but only if the seller follows the rules. If you’re pressured into buying, or you didn’t agree to buy, the salesperson may have breached the The Australian Consumer Law.

Salespeople must follow the rules including:

  • When they can knock on your door or telephone you
  • What information they’re required to give you, including a copy of the sales agreement
  • Cooling-off periods. Cooling-off means that even if you’ve signed a contract, you have a certain amount of time to cancel it if you decide against it
  • Identifying themselves

Pressure selling door-to-door and over the phone isn’t allowed under Australian Consumer Law. If you:

  • Believe you were pressured into buying something; or
  • Think a door-to-door or telephone salesperson has breached legal requirements,

you may be allowed to cool-off on the agreement by contacting the business and telling them (by phone, letter or email) that you wish to terminate the contract.

Australian Consumer Law gives you a ten-day cooling-off period. Sometimes, salespeople don’t follow all the laws that restrict what they’re allowed to do when contacting someone for an unsolicited consumer agreement. If this happens to you, the cooling off period can be extended to three or six months.

If the situation isn’t resolved, you may need legal help. For free advice, we can tell you where you can find help.

Other organisations which may be able to provide free legal advice are:

For more information, please visit:

For information about online purchases that have never arrived, see What can I do if I didn’t get what I ordered online?

Australian Consumer Law protects you from contracts which are harsh or unfair, especially if you don’t have a chance to negotiate the contract terms with the seller or service provider. Sometimes, this happens if a business uses a standard contract, also known as a standard form contract.

Because the terms of the contract are mostly already included in a printed document, standard form contracts are a way for businesses to get contracts signed without having to draft a new contract for every new customer. But if the terms are unfair, problems arise because customers can feel pressured into signing the contract without the opportunity to negotiate the terms.

If you feel that the contract you’ve signed is unfair, you can contact the business and try resolving the issue.

If that doesn’t work, you may need free legal help.  Contact us to discuss your issue. We can tell you where you can find help.

Other organisations which may be able to help are:

For more information about unfair contracts, download the ACCC’s information brochure Consumers and Unfair Contract Terms.

Krista’s telco troubles

Krista signed a contract with Telco SZ, a new mobile phone company. It made her an offer which was identical to her current plan, but at 50 per cent less than the monthly cost.

Krista thought it was a great deal and swapped over her plan just before Telco SZ’s deadline. She didn’t read the contract properly because Telco SZ’s store was closing for the day.

When Krista got home, she discovered a clause in the contract allowing Telco SZ to increase its charges after six months. There was no limit to how much the charges could increase. Krista worried that she wouldn’t be able to afford the new charges, so she decided to cancel the plan. There was no cooling-off period under the plan, and when Krista contacted Telco SZ, it refused to release her from the contract.

Krista asked Barwon Community Legal Service for advice. We sent a letter to Telco SZ, identifying all the parts of the contract that were unfair to Krista, especially the increase of charges to an unknown amount.

Telco SZ agreed to cancel Krista’s contract. As Krista hadn’t yet paid any money to Telco SZ, there was no need for a refund.

There are two things to understand about contract termination fees:

  1. Any termination fee must be written in the contract and agreed by the parties
  2. It must be fair and reasonable

For a contract to be unfair, it must meet three criteria:

  1. The contract terms are significantly one-sided
  2. The contract terms aren’t necessary
  3. Carrying out the terms would cause harm to one of the parties

A business can require you to pay a termination fee if it’s written into the contract and you knew about it (or ought to have known about it) before you signed the contract. But it can only charge the fee if it’s a fair and reasonable thing to do. The termination fee isn’t fair if you didn’t have an opportunity to negotiate the requirement to pay a fee, if the fee isn’t necessary, or if payment of the fee would cause you harm.

Whether a contract termination fee is fair will depend on the unique circumstances of your situation. It’s best to get legal advice to work this out.

You can seek free legal advice about contract termination fees from:

Hanka’s contract concerns

Hanka owns a hairdressing salon. She has made a contract with All Hair Supplies (AHS), a company which supplies hair salons with a wide range of products. Hanka signed a standard form contract, saying that she would use AHS exclusively for all specialist salon supplies for two years.

Hanka is concerned that she had to agree to a contract termination fee of $20,000 if she ends the arrangement before the end of the two year period. She also wonders why AHS isn’t subject to a termination fee if it terminates the arrangement.

Hanka’s contract may be unfair and she can seek legal help.

If a business goes bankrupt after you paid for a product or service, but before you received it, you may find yourself in a difficult situation, especially if you’ve spent a lot of money.

Bankruptcy can happen when the business can no longer pay its debts, especially if there’s a downturn in its trade.

Sometimes, another person or company – known as an administrator – is brought in to try and help the business pay off its debts or get back up and running.

If this happens, the administrator will view you as an unsecured creditor. This means that while the administrator may accept that the business owes you money (or it owes you the product or service), you will have to join the queue of creditors to see if you will get any of that money. Unsecured creditors tend to be lower in priority behind secured creditors, such as banks.

If any money is paid to you, often it’s only a fraction of what you’re owed.

If you paid for the product or service on your credit card, or via a payment service such as eBay or PayPal, you may be able to contact your bank or the payment service to cancel the transaction, or to get a chargeback on your card.

If you purchased a small product or service, for example, a gift voucher, possibly there’s no way to recover the money. If it’s a larger item, for example, a car or wedding dress, you should contact the administrator to let them know what’s owing to you and to register your details with them.

We can give you advice about how to find your way through this type of situation. Contact us to make an appointment.

If the product or service is of poor quality, the consumer guarantees apply.

Poor quality products are:

  • Unsafe, flimsy or faulty
  • Inadequate or flawed in appearance or finish
  • Not fit for their common use

You can complain about the product or service and ask the business to fix the problem. For more information, see our section What can I do if I want to complain about a product or service?

Typically, poor quality goods should be repaired, refunded or replaced.

Damian’s mountain bike

Damian bought a mountain bike because he wanted to ride some of the steep bike tracks near his home.

However, when he first rode the bike, he found the brakes barely worked, and the frame was slightly bent. The bike was dangerous to ride because it was faulty, and not fit for mountain bike riding.

Damian took the bike back to the shop and demonstrated the faulty brakes to the salesperson, Stella. He showed Stella the bend in the frame.

Damian told Stella that he was concerned that a repair of the bike would weaken the frame, and so he wanted a refund. Stella agreed that the bike was faulty and refunded Damian’s money.

You need to contact the business, tell them you want a refund, and tell them why. Getting a refund will depend on the problem. For example, if it’s a small problem that’s easily repaired, the business can choose to repair the product (at no extra cost).

If it’s a significant problem, you can ask for a replacement or refund. The business will choose whichever is most appropriate. Occasionally, a business may ask you whether you’d prefer a replacement or refund.

Usually, you must return the product to get a replacement or refund. For large items, the business may organise to take the product away at their own cost.

Even if a business has a no-refund policy, they must provide you with a refund when required by law.

For more information, visit the ACCC’s Repair, replace, refund website page.

If you simply changed your mind about a product or service that you bought, the business isn’t required to give you a refund.

If you bought a second-hand car from a private individual, you need to be aware of the increased risks, for example:

  • There’s no cooling-off period
  • If the new car warranty has expired, it won’t be covered by any warranty
  • The car may be stolen. You can check the car’s registration status with Vic Roads. If it has been reported as stolen, you can check the Personal Property and Securities Register
  • The person selling the car may still owe money on a car loan. You can check the Personal Property and Securities Register to find out

Buying a second-hand car from a licensed dealer is far less risky because dealers must give you consumer guarantees. Licensed dealers must also offer three day cooling-off periods, as well as a Guarantee Fund which you can claim against if the licensed dealer goes bankrupt or breaks the law.

For more information, see Consumer Affairs Victoria’s advice on buying a used car from a private seller.

We can provide advice about whether you have grounds for a complaint, and how to find legal assistance. We’ll refer you to an appropriate legal service (for example, a private lawyer, Consumer Affairs Victoria or the Consumer Action Law Centre).

Sometimes, we’re able to take on casework to write letters to businesses, or for negotiations. However, we can’t provide representation in court proceedings.

Your consumer rights are important

Australian Consumer Law is complicated. You need to understand your rights. You also need to know where to get advice. Contact us to find out if we can help you.

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Last modified on April 29th, 2021 at 9:53 am

The content on this site is information only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please contact us.