Stand up for your consumer rights; know them and how to exercise them

Don't roll over on your consumer rights
Upside down tortoise

Yes you do have consumer rights. Unfortunately, Australia has regressed from strong consumer laws passed in the 1970’s. However, take heart, you still have power.

Hopefully this post provides some insights into dealing effectively with well-founded, significant consumer complaints of any dollar value.  One of the first considerations when following through with a consumer complaint is “will this be worth my time and effort?”.

We often hear about warranties, guarantees or “fitness for purpose” in relation to goods or services that have not met expectations. We are talking about new or second hand goods with a warranty.

A little time spent doing some background work before you buy could save you a whole lot of anguish further down the line.  You don’t want to later realise you have bought a product with a well publicised dodgy reputation. We recommend you access organisations like Choice to assist you in making decisions, along with your own research on the web. Search for a product name and add the words “review”, “problems” or “complaints”.

Very importantly if you have a problem, initially you should always address it courteously and unemotionally with the provider. This is the person or entity with whom you have entered into a contract to supply you. It may help to meet personally if you can, accompanied by a good friend who would make a reliable witness if required.

Sometimes the temptation to start with the manufacturer is very strong, but you may not have a contract with the manufacturer, unless you purchased direct. Whaaat! We hear the howling, but that is the case. You could approach a manufacturer who has produced goods that vary from an online description (i.e. did not comply with the functional/operational description) and be successful on the basis of what they have published on-line. Manufacturers could, however, legally rely on the fact that they did not make representations to you when you bought the goods from a third party.

Certainly, in this day and age, when you research online and rely on a manufacturer’s assertions on their website, it does make them a target, but you must formally make the approach through the seller.

From personal experience we recommend that if you are going to rely on something published online, make an electronic copy and print it off immediately for your records. Otherwise, it is highly likely that after a complaint is made, what was online could change very quickly: evidence gone!

If a retailer or manufacturer refuses to acknowledge or deal constructively with your complaint, all States and Territories have Consumer Affairs Offices or similar bodies (see links below) which can assist you or make representations on your behalf. These Government bodies can only rely on the disposition of the trader to settle your individual claim; they may not have serious enforcement powers.

If your problem dealing with a company warrants the effort, you can get the names and addresses of company directors, at a small fee, from the ASIC website, and write to them at home; Company Directors seriously don’t appreciate your complaint arriving with their personal mail.

But, always be sure of all your facts, see the issue from the other party’s point of view, be reasonable and civil. Be prepared to reach a compromise, but be very persistent!

If your issue becomes a “matter-of-principle” (and they can) try to weigh up the emotional cost compared with letting it go and moving on. If there are big dollars involved or matters of strong ethical concern, go for it, seek wise counsel, plan and think it through carefully (where it gets really sticky, seek legal advice).

We have won some, lost a couple, but have had good success in approaching airlines, telcos, car dealerships, retailers and manufacturers.






South Australia

Northern Territory

Western Australia


Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

We all have horror stories; have you found approaches that have worked well for you in resolving consumer issues? What worked best?

Older and Wiser