Consumer law reform means you could reject a dodgy product without proving it has major flaws

SHOPPERS may soon have 30 days to simply reject a dodgy product without having to prove it has a major flaw under a dramatic toughening of consumer law.

John RolfeNews Corp Australia Network

Other key reforms to emerge from an official report released yesterday by Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand (CAANZ) include:

* outlawing the sale of unsafe goods, as the UK, Canada, EU and others already do;

* increasing penalties for breaching consumer law by as much as 10 times; and

* clarifying that a series of minor failures with a product can amount to a major failure, triggering the right to a refund or replacement.

News Corp Australia understands CAANZ’s final report goes much further than earlier drafts.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said he was delighted with the recommendations.

“This is a huge set of changes,” Mr Sims said last night.

He said that had the proposed increase in penalties been in place last year, the ACCC could have got a $60 million court-ordered fine against Reckitt Benckiser for misleading representations about its Nurofen Specific Pain products instead of $6 million, which itself was an increased from an initial $1.7 million.

While big companies might brush off a penalty of $1-2 million, “$60 million matters”, Mr Sims said. It also sent a message to consumers that companies weren’t being hit with a “feather duster”.

The increased penalties — when combined with the unsafe goods changes — would have a “profound effect”, Mr Sims said.

But it arguably is the new right to reject a good within a month that may be the biggest reform.

CAANZ’s report said “refund rights should be readily available … where a good fails to comply with the consumer guarantees within a short specified period such as 30 days after purchase or delivery”.

“This proposal entitles consumers to their choice of remedy (a refund, replacement or repair) where a good fails to meet the consumer guarantees within a short period of time after purchase or delivery,” the report said.

“This excludes perishable foods (such as food and drink) and consumable goods that can be used up (such as certain cosmetic products). Further analysis will be undertaken to develop options relating to the specified period of time and other implementation issues.”

Consumer Affairs Ministers will vote on the proposals in August 2017. If they are supported, legislative changes would need to be passed by federal parliament before they come into effect.

The federal minister responsible for consumer affairs matters Michael McCormack said while “improvements may be necessary in some areas, evidence from people who use the law every day is that it is working well”.

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