Meet the 2021 winners of the 16th Annual CHOICE Shonky Awards. There's the $300 bladeless fan that lacks puff, the $499 kitchen food mulcher that produces "eco chips", and fruit jelly sweets that are 69 per cent sugar.

There's also the Buy Now Pay Later provider that lends money without checking whether the debt can be repaid, as well as the airline that cancels flights but offers no refunds. And a classic past Shonky Awards winner - an insurance policy against alien abduction.

How are products and companies nominated for Shonky Awards?

The Shonky Awards are bestowed upon the shonkiest products and services that have been inflicted upon Australian consumers in the past year. It isn't merely a case of the product not living up to the sales pitch, but also the fact that it may be unsafe, unreliable or a waste of money. (See 2021 Shonky Awards, CHOICE.)

The Shonky Awards get noticed and can prompt significant industry change. For example, after CHOICE revealed that pet insurance policies contained so many exclusions and conditions that they were effectively pointless, the insurance industry made some positive amendments to such policies.

Australians protected against dud products under Consumer Law

Consumer law is contained in Schedule 2 to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The protections under Australian Consumer Law are greater than some would think, protecting people when they buy goods and services. (See Consumers and the ACL, Australian Consumer Law.)

For instance, when you buy a fridge there is an automatic guarantee that it works as proclaimed by the manufacturer. This is regardless of guarantees provided by the shop. If the fridge doesn't work as promised, the consumer has rights against the supplier to receive a remedy such as repair, replacement or refund.

How far does consumer law extend to safeguard Australians?

Consumer guarantees apply to new and second-hand items, products on sale, online purchases and gifts with proof of purchase.

Goods that are not covered are those bought from a private seller at a garage sale or at auction, and business items costing more than $40,000.

There are also legal protections covering unfair contract terms, product safety and unsolicited consumer agreements, including door-to-door sales, telephone sales and lay-by agreements.

Fisher & Paykel fined for misleading consumers about warranties

Penalties for breaching consumer law can be severe. In 2015 Fisher & Paykel was fined $200,000 in the Federal Court for falsely telling consumers their warranty expired after two years unless they bought an extended warranty.

Under the law, consumers can be covered for repair costs beyond the two year warranty. (See Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Fisher & Paykel Customer Services Pty Ltd [2014] FAC 1393.)

Understand your legal rights under consumer law

The government's website on consumer law has more detail on what is and what isn't covered by the law. However, if consumers have trouble getting a replacement or refund from a store or manufacturer, it would be wise to get legal advice on what can be done.

Similarly, if stores and manufacturers face angry consumers or are accused of breaching consumer law, they should seek legal guidance.

Consumer protection agencies such as the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission and NSW Fair Trading offer information and advice and it's always best to know where you stand with the law.

Nathan Stack
Consumer claims
Stacks Law Firm

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.