2019: the year of consumer rights and corporate penalties
ACCC Chair Rod Sims introduced the 2019 Compliance and Enforcement Policy in his annual speech at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.
The ACCC’s priorities fall into five categories:
- competition enforcement approach and objectives;
- consumer law enforcement priorities;
- key product safety focus;
- the ACCC’s current market studies; and
- the ACCC’s current advocacy focus.
Amongst the key priorities for the ACCC in 2019 are the protection of consumer rights and increased penalties for anti-competitive business practices. The new misuse of market power and concerted practices provisions are also a focus area for the ACCC with Rod Sims going so far as to say that he is confident the ACCC will bring proceedings under these provisions in 2019.
Enforcing consumer rights
The ACCC will focus on large retailers of high value white goods and electrical appliances for consumer guarantee laws. Advertising and subscription services on social media platforms will also be subject to scrutiny by the ACCC.
The sale of unsafe goods are of particular concern with the introduction of general safety provisions expected in 2019. A push for transparency will see a focus on the pricing of essential services including energy and telecommunications.
The ACCC will consider whether benefits promised to consumers under customer loyalty schemes are received by consumers. The Consumer Data Right system will continue to be established this year, facilitating consumer access to personal data.
The continuing trend of increased penalties will see the laws around unfair contract terms strengthened. Criminal cartels will be a key focus with additional cases being considered for prosecution and several current cases concluding. The ACCC hopes a strong criminal prosecution presence will act as a deterrent to further misconduct.
Misuse of market power will also be of interest for investigations and prosecutions this year. The newly established Financial Services Competition Branch will investigate anti-competitive conduct and support prosecution in the financial services sector. A similar approach will be taken with the commercial construction sector by the Commercial Construction Unit.
What does this mean going forward?
Businesses can expect to see harsher penalties and severe repercussions for engaging in anti-competitive conduct. Particular focus will be on the financial services, commercial construction and agriculture sectors in 2019.