Knock it off or pay the price
When an AGL door knocker was confronted with a sign on a consumer’s front door featuring the image of a fist with a line struck through it, accompanied by large, capitalised words stating ‘DO NOT KNOCK unsolicited door-to-door selling not welcome here’ it appears they may have had difficulty in appreciating its meaning. The Federal Court, however, has had no such problem, finding that the sticker amounted to a request to leave the consumer’s premises – without knocking on their door.
As we previously reported, the ACCC had in May this year taken action against AGL Sales Pty Ltd and AGL South Australia Pty Ltd for a range of conduct by a single salesperson who was alleged to have breached the unsolicited consumer agreement and misleading and deceptive conduct provisions of the Australian Consumer Law. Justice Middleton agreed with the ACCC’s allegations, finding, amongst other things, that the AGL companies failed to inform a customer that their purpose for the visit was to sell gas and electricity and made false representations about the price at which AGL would charge for energy services. However His Honour had reserved judgment on the ACCC’s submission that the door knocker’s conduct in knocking on the consumer’s door and commencing to negotiate with them despite the presence of a prominent ‘Do not knock’ sign on the door, was a breach of the ACL requirement to leave premises immediately on request by a consumer.
The Federal Court has now found the relevant sign conveyed a clear and “unambiguous request to leave the premises without knocking” and that AGL South Australia Pty Ltd and its marketing company CPM Australia Pty Ltd breached the ACL in seeking to deal with the consumer.
The decision confirms the legal status of such notices, and the ability of consumers to use such signs to avoid having to deal with uninvited door knockers and instead request them to leave their premises without the need to pass on these instructions verbally. According to ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court, “the Court’s decision means that these signs cannot be ignored”. Ironically, AGL appears to have belatedly recognised the value in a ‘Do not knock’ sticker, having since introduced its own such sticker campaign distributing thousands of stickers to its own customers after Justice Midddleton’s earlier decision.
The ACCC is now seeking additional penalties for this latest ACL breach on a date yet to be fixed. This comes on top of the $1.555 million already imposed by His Honour against AGL earlier this year for door knocking misconduct.