Friday, 26 February 2021 11:19

Small businesses seek guidance during pandemic, says ACCC Featured

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Small business inquiries to the ACCC increased 60% in 2020 compared to the previous year, in part due to businesses seeking information about their obligations to consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the ACCC.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says in its latest Small Business in Focus report that total contacts from small businesses increased to more than 3,400 in the second half of 2020, and inquiries about those businesses’ legal rights and obligations jumped 30%.

The ACCC notes that it has recently brought a number of small business and franchising cases before the courts, and in the second half of last year the ACCC instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against printing company Fuji Xerox Australia, food and beverage franchise Retail Food Group, and courier franchise Megasave.

“We currently have a number of important cases before the courts that highlight some of the problems the small business and franchising sector faces,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said.

The ACCC says that reports of potential misconduct were down slightly in July to December 2020 but the ACCC still received almost 2,000 total complaints from small businesses, about one-third of which were reports of misleading conduct and false representations by other businesses.

“The last 12 months have been incredibly difficult for many small businesses but it is pleasing that we have received fewer reports of misconduct from businesses and more requests for information about legal obligations and protections,” Commissioner Keogh said.

“70 per cent of all businesses that contacted the ACCC in the second half of last year were micro-sized businesses with four staff or fewer. Many of these businesses have limited resources and are vulnerable to misconduct from larger suppliers, so it is important that they understand they have certain protections under the Australian Consumer Law.”

The ACCC notes that the Australian Government is currently progressing reforms that will strengthen existing unfair contract term protections in the Australian Consumer Law.

The proposed changes include prohibiting and imposing civil pecuniary penalties for including unfair contract terms in small business and consumer contracts, expanding the definition of ‘small business’, and removing the contract value threshold.

“The ACCC has been advocating for a number of years for changes to the current unfair contract term law as it has some major limitations,” Commissiomer Keogh said.

“The business-to-business unfair contract term law is a very important law for small businesses and we hope to see new, stronger laws come into effect later this year.”


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