As part of an annual practice that has developed over the past
three years, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
(ACCC) has once again given guidance to Australian businesses on
its compliance and enforcement priorities for the coming year. On
21 February 2014, ACCC Chairman Rodney Sims announced the
ACCC's priorities for 2014, reaffirming ongoing areas of focus
and highlighting new issues in response to up-and-coming sectors in
the Australian economy.
Reaffirming ongoing priorities
The ACCC remains committed to addressing issues of cartel
conduct, anti-competitive agreements, secondary boycotts and misuse
of market power, which the ACCC will continuously enforce. In a
confirmation of previous years' priorities, consumer and
competition issues relating to the supermarket and fuel industries
remain a priority. The ACCC will also continue to place product
safety as a priority, with the focus on low-cost imported goods
that are being sold by large Australian retailers.
Energy and telecommunications sectors
In 2013, the ACCC focused on addressing unlawful door-to-door
sales conduct engaged in by energy companies, which saw AGL Energy
and Australian Power and Gas (APG) liable for more than $1 million
in penalties. However, in 2014, the ACCC's focus will shift
towards misleading discount claims made by energy companies when
advertising their energy plans. In particular, the ACCC is
concerned with the advertising or promotion of savings and/or
discounts of energy usage or supply charges on those particular
plans. The ACCC predicts future court action in this area.
Additionally, following the High Court's 2013 decision to
impose a $2 million penalty against APG, the ACCC will continue to
scrutinise the sales and advertising practices in the
Online marketplace and "drip
In 2013, group buying websites were a focus of the ACCC. This
year, the focus will shift towards comparator websites and the
issue of "drip pricing". Comparator websites are those
that allow consumers to compare prices and offers by a number of
companies in the relevant industry. There is a possibility that
these websites may mislead consumers. In 2014, the ACCC will work
together with industry to improve standards for comparator websites
and take enforcement action, if necessary.
Drip pricing relates to the gradual addition of fees and charges
throughout the online payment process, which can sometimes see a
significant increase to the "headline" price that is
advertised and/or which consumers see. This drip pricing conduct is
often seen when purchasing airfares or concert tickets online. The
ACCC has identified this particular behaviour as potentially
misleading and foresees future litigation in this area.
Disruption of scams
In 2014, the ACCC will prioritise the disruption of scams by
working collaboratively with state and territory agencies, as well
as money remitters, such as Western Union, to prevent fraudulent
funds transfers and to protect victims. It is the ACCC's aim to
identify victims of scams and contact them to stop the flow of
money being sent to scammers.
Complexity and unfairness in consumer or small business
The ACCC will be moving away from a compliance-based approach to
issues of unfair contract terms and towards a more
enforcement-based approach. It is likely that the ACCC will
initiate enforcement actions within the next 12 months.
The ACCC will be particularly interested in the investigation of
credence claims this year. The Chairman has made particular
reference to claims that mislead consumers by portraying large
manufacturers as small or niche businesses. This behaviour is
potentially misleading to consumers who may purchase a product
because they believe they are supporting small business. It is the
ACCC's concern that this conduct will be detrimental to
consumer confidence in marketing claims and also adversely impact
innovation and competition.
In 2014, the ACCC intends to focus on the sale of extended
warranties offered by suppliers and manufacturers. There is concern
that consumers may be misled into believing that they need to pay
for rights that are already afforded to them by consumer guarantees
under Australian consumer law.
Carbon tax repeal
Perhaps the most high-profile area in which the ACCC intends to
prioritise is the regulation of energy prices throughout the carbon
tax repeal process. The ACCC will closely monitor whether prices
reflect the repeal of the tax in the interests of protecting
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
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