This information will help training providers and marketers understand their obligations under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). The ACL sets out the rights of consumers and the obligations of businesses, including training providers and marketers. The ACL applies to all education and training services, including:
- advertising, marketing and promotion
- soliciting and taking enrolments
- training delivery
- student assessment
- handling of complaints by training providers
- requests to cancel a student’s enrolment.
The ACL also applies when these services are provided by third parties on behalf of a training provider.
Misleading, deceptive and unconscionable conduct
It’s illegal to falsely or misleadingly represent the:
- price of a service
- quality of the service
- need for particular services.
Misleading advice could also include:
- the benefit of doing a course, including eligibility for further study or employment prospects
- the overall price of the course, including VET Student Loan arrangements.
conduct against good conscience is also illegal. Extra care must be taken when marketing to vulnerable consumers who might not know what they are signing up for. This might include consumers:
- with an intellectual or learning disability
- from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
- with low literacy skills
- with otherwise limited ability to complete the course.
Targeting vulnerable consumers with the promise of incentives if they sign up to a VET Student Loan, without fully explaining the course and loan scheme, could also be considered unconscionable conduct. Courts can impose penalties for these offences of up to $1.1 million for corporations and $220,000 for individuals. Fair Trading can also seek injunctions or court orders for refunds and damages.
Important: Offering incentives to consumers to enrol in a VET Student Loan course was banned from 1 April 2015. Go to the VET Student Loans compliance page for more information.
Door-to-door sales, telemarketing and shopping centre sales
Some training providers and marketers approach consumers door-to-door, in public, or over the phone. If a consumer signs up for a course after being approached like this, it’s called an ‘unsolicited consumer agreement’.
Consumers have extra protections in these circumstances, because the training provider or marketer initiated contact, not the consumer. The extra protections include:
- a 10 business day cooling-off period, during which the contract can be cancelled without payment or penalty
- restrictions on the days and hours when approaches can be made
- obligations on the part of the salesperson:
- must present identification and give the consumer a truthful explanation of their rights
- must leave the premises or cease contact if asked to do so by the consumer or if a 'Do Not Knock` sign is displayed
- must provide the consumer with a copy of the complete agreement, at the time of any face-to-face sale, or within five days following a telephone sale.
The cooling-off period allows the consumer time to fully consider their personal circumstances and the contract terms, and cancel the contract without penalty if they change their mind. If a training provider or marketer fails to afford a consumer their rights in an unsolicited sale, the cooling-off period automatically extends to six months.
Complaints commonly received by regulators allege that:
- vulnerable consumers have been signed up to courses but not provided a copy of the contract
- consumers not being told about their cooling-off period or contract cancellation rights.
Courts can impose penalties for these offences of up to $50,000 for corporations and $10,000 for individuals.
Go to the unsolicited consumer agreements page for more information.
Unfair contract terms
Training providers and marketers often use standard, ‘take it or leave it’ style contracts when signing up consumers, which provides the consumer without any genuine opportunity to negotiate the contract terms. Go to the unfair contract terms page for more information.
When consumers buy services, they come with automatic guarantees.
- be provided with acceptable care, skill and technical knowledge
- be fit for purpose, or give the results that the consumer and the business had agreed to
- be delivered within a reasonable time when there is no agreed end date.
If services do not meet the consumer guarantees, they can:
- cancel a service for a full refund
- seek partial refund for a reduced service
- seek compensation for damages and loss.
Go to the consumer guarantees page for more information.
Vocational education and training reforms
A number of Commonwealth Government reforms have been announced that affect suppliers and marketers in the vocational education and training sector. Information on these reforms is available on:
Visit the Department of education and training website for information on the new VET Student Loan program.