A proposal to empower consumer groups to make ‘super complaints’ to the consumer and competition watchdog will contribute to a fairer marketplace.
The Australian Labor Party has announced a proposed ‘super complaint’ function for our consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Under the proposal, a ‘super complaint’ from designated consumer or small business groups about consumer or competition issues would require the ACCC to investigate and publicly respond, including its proposed action, within a set time period.
Consumer Action Law Centre CEO Gerard Brody says that complaints made to regulators on consumers’ behalf should be thoroughly investigated to identify systemic issues in markets, but that difficult issue can face delays in action. Consumer Action cites the example of debt management firms, which have yet to be held to account despite repeated complaints spanning close to a decade.
“So-called ‘debt repair’ companies have been an ongoing concern for consumer advocacy groups across the country,” says Brody. “They promise to help people concerned about money, debt or their credit report.”
“Unfortunately, the reality is that consumers are too often left with high fees, conflicted advice and broken promises, leaving them struggling to pay for even the most basic necessities.”
Despite broad consensus that reform is needed to prevent misconduct, little has been done to curb dodgy debt management companies.
“We need quick action from our regulators when consumer issues arise. A new Super Complaints system will help get fast and transparent action from the consumer watchdog to prevent issues from taking root and affecting more people.”
Consumer Action also encourages government to look beyond the symptoms and take action if the regulator identifies issues that require law reform.
“When the solution requires law reform, like with debt vultures, we need action not just from our regulators, but also from the Government.”
Consumer Action supports similar powers for other regulators, including the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and the Australian Communications & Markets Authority (ACMA).
“People deserve to know that their complaints are being taken seriously and that having the courage to speak up will help make sure others don’t suffer a similar fate. All political parties should adopt this policy which will ensure a fairer marketplace for Australians.”
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- Super-complaints have been a feature of the UK regulatory system for many years
- Issues raised by consumers as super-complaints have included grocery pricing, compensation for train delays, energy billing practices, care homes and savings accounts.
- The most recent super-complaint in the UK considered the “loyalty penalty”, that is, the practice of businesses imposing higher prices on loyal customers compared to new customers across industries like insurance, energy and telecommunications.
- The regulator response included proposed restrictions on some pricing practices, and better protections for vulnerable groups. More information can be found here.