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Students have a lot to learn, but they are always right under Australian Consumer Law

Good service is often summed up by the phrase “the customer is always right”. The idea being that if you look after your customer, they will look after you – or at least, not give you a bad review.

The reality is that all consumers of goods and services have legal rights under Australian Consumer Law (ACL) intended to ensure that they:

  • Get what they reasonably expect
  • Are not taken advantage of
  • Receive fair terms in any agreed arrangement
  • Are protected when the product or service does not meet the standard or quality promised.

Consumer protections under Australian Consumer Law

ACL applies to all of the products and services the University of Adelaide offers, sells or promotes.

It provides protection to consumers by setting rules that must be observed when doing business.

These rules are relevant to any form of engagement the University has with students, as ‘consumers’ of education services. The protections afforded by these rules extend to other individuals and businesses the University deals with too.

New penalty levels from September 2018

Recent amendments to the ACL have substantially increased the potential financial penalties for both the University and for any individuals deliberately violating the rights of consumers.

From 1 September 2018, the base financial penalties for corporations increased from a maximum of $1.1 million to a maximum $10 million. For individuals, the maximum penalty rose from $220,000 to $500,000.

Getting customer rights right

Against these substantial changes, here’s a recap on the basic measures needed to meet obligations under the ACL:

  1. As ACL applies to University operations broadly, the key obligation for University personnel is to be vigilant and accurate in:
    • The preparation and presentation of information (e.g. advertising, correspondence, emails, conversations, social media, negotiations and agreement preparation); and
    • The expectations you convey when you engage with prospective students or partners.
  1. Be aware that under ACL:
    • Disclaimers cannot be relied on to overcome any misleading impressions created,
    • Silence or failure to clarify an arrangement can be considered misleading or deceptive, and
    • Innocent mistakes, exaggerations or misprints will not diminish the rights of a consumer.
  1. Avoid statements of personal opinion which might be offered as friendly encouragement to a prospective student or business partner but may lead them to form an incorrect view about the outcome of an arrangement.
  2. Remember that ACL is reflected in other regulatory regimes that apply to the University. The Education Services for Overseas Students National Code 2018 requires, as a condition of accreditation, that providers ensure that all marketing and promotion materials (including where provided through education agents) complies with ACL.

By meeting obligations under Australian Consumer Law you are protecting the integrity of the University as a trusted provider of education services and reducing the likelihood that our customers will need to “correct” the University’s processes by exercising their consumer rights.

For full details about ACL in a university context, refer to the Consumer and Competition Law Compliance Manual.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission also hosts an online training program comprised of 12 modules setting out the key features and rights and obligations under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth).

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