The ACCC’s recent crackdown on website T&Cs should just be a reminder to business owners that not protecting themselves against legal liability could bring heavy fines.
Businesses must act now to ensure all of their website terms and conditions comply with legal requirements before increasingly vigilant legal watchdogs catch up with anyone whose small print hides bad practice.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently launched an Internet sweep to catch out websites that are flaunting consumer rights or actively misleading customers with their own non-compliant refund policies.
If caught out, fines could be as high as $200,000 for individuals and $1.1m for businesses. But illegal refund terms are just the tip of an iceberg that could sink non-compliant small businesses altogether.
Businesses need to look at a whole suite of terms and conditions that govern the customer-website relationship. There are broad requirements they might not be aware of. The fines in this area are heavy, so it is better to invest in getting the right T&Cs now, rather than risk your business altogether.
However, too many businesses think that cutting and pasting from another site or just making terms up will cover them.
You cannot override consumer protection legislation by coming up with your own T&Cs, such as a 14-day refund policy – which isn’t legal. Getting it right from the start, means you are protected from possible big fines later on.
We recommend that businesses look at:
It’s really to set out the terms and conditions around acceptable use of your website and allowing the owner to disclaim liability associated with a person’s use of the website.
Businesses with a turnover of under $3m a year aren’t legally required to comply with the Privacy Act. However it is best practice and instills confidence in the customer.
If you have an e-commerce website you should display policies and terms relating to purchases, shipping, refunds and returns and they should be made clear before a customer actually commits to a purchase.
The law is closing in on anyone contravening the rules. While there has been a perceived disconnect between legal rules of the ‘real world’ and what applies in the virtual one, that gap is rapidly closing.