Competition and Consumer Law Update – February 2020 Edition
This is the latest in a monthly series detailing developments in competition and consumer law in Australia, including the activities of Australia’s competition and consumer regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), published judgments, recently issued proceedings and any relevant changes in the law.
This article covers events which occurred in February 2020. The previous December 2019/January 2020 update is available here.
ACCC releases compliance and enforcement priorities
The ACCC has released its compliance and enforcement priorities for 2020. This provides an outline of the ACCC’s strategy for the year ahead and an indication of areas it intends to focus on, in its efforts to ensure compliance with the Australia Consumer Law and related laws.
This year, ACCC Chair Rod Sims indicated that the ACCC’s focus will include:
- ensuring competition in the funeral services sector, where the ACCC alleges that businesses use their significant market power to bundle services and block new entrants to the market;
- competition and consumer issues relating to digital platforms, in particular regarding the collection and use of personal consumer data;
- issues arising regarding the pricing and selling of essential services such as electricity and telecommunications;
- misleading and deceptive conduct in the marketing of food products, particularly in relation to health benefit claims and country of origin claims;
- competition and poor trading practices in the commercial construction sector, in particular, in relation to large projects and conduct impacting small businesses;
- enforcement of the Franchising Code of Conduct and ensuring that franchisees receive the protection of competition and consumer law in their dealings with franchisors; and
- improving industry compliance with consumer guarantees, with a focus on motor vehicles, electronics, and white goods.
These focus areas are in addition to the ACCC’s enduring priorities of investigating cartel conduct, anti-competitive conduct, product safety, vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers, and conduct impacting Indigenous Australians. The full text of the ACCC’s 2020 compliance and enforcement priorities is available here and the text of Rod Sims’ announcement of these compliance and enforcement priorities at the Committee for Economic Development Australia is available here.
Small Business in Focus Report shows misleading and deceptive conduct concerns for small Australian businesses
The ACCC has released the latest edition of its bi-annual Small Business in Focus report, which provides a summary of the ACCC’s activities in the small business, franchising, and agricultural sectors. The report shows that the ACCC received more than 900 complaints by small businesses about false and misleading conduct by other businesses in the second half of 2019, making this by far the most common form of complaint. The ACCC also received approximately 150 complaints regarding franchising, over half of which related to the Franchising Code of Conduct. In addition to taking action where complaints reveal misleading or deceptive conduct, ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh stated, in the ACCC’s media release about the report, that the ACCC is also aware of concerns regarding unfair contract terms imposed by large businesses on small businesses, such as certain terms contained in Uber Eats’ contracts with delivery drivers, which Uber Eats has undertaken to change. The full report is available here.
Consumer Data Right Rules enacted
The ACCC’s Competition and Consumer (Consumer Data Right) Rules came into effect on 6 February 2020. These rules are intended to regulate how banks deal with consumer data. Under the rules, consumers are entitled to view particular data held by the four major banks (including, for example, data regarding transactions they have made), to request transfer of this data to ‘accredited data recipients’ (persons accredited to receive consumer data right (CDR) data), or to request deletion of this data. The rules also require the four major banks to share product reference data (including interest rates and eligibility requirements), which is intended to facilitate comparison services. The ACCC has indicated that similar rules will be implemented regarding the energy sector later this year. The full rules are available here, and the ACCC media release is available here.