Consumer rights: Myths and facts

To avoid problems with consumer issues, it helps to get your facts right. Discover what is myth and what is fact for each of these topics.

Consumer guarantee myth

A consumer guarantee doesn’t have to be provided if there is a warranty.

Consumer guarantee fact

Under the Australian Consumer Law consumer guarantees are given automatically.  They provide consumers with a comprehensive set of rights for the goods and services they buy, lease or hire. They replace the statutory and implied warranties under previous laws. Other warranties still exist. A manufacturer’s warranty is a voluntary promise made by a supplier or manufacturer about the goods or services. An extended warranty is an additional warranty that can be purchased by a consumer. Warranties do not replace any consumer guarantees.

Pricing myth

'They’ve got to sell it to me at the lowest marked price.'

Pricing fact

Not necessarily. When an item is marked with two prices, it is illegal for the retailer to sell you the item at the higher price but in some cases, the retailer can withdraw the item from sale.

Beware of bait advertising where businesses entice customers into their stores by advertising goods at very low prices but don't have the sale items in stock. Businesses must ensure that reasonable supplies of the products are available during sales.

Deposit myth

'I've changed my mind. But I can still get my deposit back.'

Deposit fact

It depends. Whether you realise it or not, the piece of paper you sign is a contract. When you place a deposit on an item, you may be entering into a binding agreement to proceed with the transaction. If you change your mind, the business may be entitled to retain all or part of your deposit. The actual amount the business is allowed to retain depends on the circumstances. This money compensates the business for the time and expense devoted to the transaction, but should not be so high as to constitute a penalty. As a gesture of goodwill, many businesses will return your deposit.

Cooling-off period myth

'I'm always protected by a cooling-off period. That means I can change my mind and withdraw from the sale even though I have signed a contract.'

Cooling-off period fact

Cooling-off periods only apply to a limited number of transactions including:

  • telemarketing and door-to-door sales (unsolicited consumer agreements)
  • some contracts for the sale of land
  • some contracts for motor vehicles where the dealer is also arranging the finance
  • contracts with an agency to sell property.

In all cases, specific conditions apply and you need to make sure you fully understand your rights before signing any contracts, even if a cooling-off period is available. Always read any document you are asked to sign. If you don't understand it, don't sign it.

IMPORTANT – With most contracts, you can't rely on a cooling-off period.  Know your rights before you sign.

Supermarket scanner myth

'If a supermarket scanner scans an item at a price higher than the displayed shelf price, I can get that item free of charge.'

Supermarket scanner fact

This only applies if the supermarket abides by the voluntary Code of Practice for Computerised Checkout Systems in Supermarkets. Under the Code of Practice, if an item scans at a price higher than the shelf price, the customer is entitled to receive the first item free and all subsequent items with the same barcode, at the lower shelf price.

Remedy for a problem myth

The consumer can always choose the remedy if there is a problem with a good or service.

Remedy for a problem fact

It depends on whether the problem is minor or major. For minor problems with goods or services, the business chooses the remedy. For major problems with goods or services, you, the consumer chooses the remedy.

Original packaging myth

I have to keep the original packaging for the product and return it to the supplier if something goes wrong with the product.

Original packaging fact

You are not required to return the goods to the supplier in the original packaging. However, you will usually need to have proof of the transaction (eg cash register or credit card receipt).

Customer rights myth

'The customer is always right.'

Customer rights fact

Customers sometimes do get it wrong but well-informed consumers have a far better chance of successfully asserting their rights.

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