The ACCC Puts Aussie Caravan Industry on Notice for Poor Treatment of Consumers

The ACCC Puts Aussie Caravan Industry on Notice for Poor Treatment of Consumers
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The ACCC has issued a warning to Australia’s caravan industry after the watchdog received complaints of an alarming number of failures experienced by RV-owning consumers.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has for the last few years been focusing a lot of its attention on tech companies and digital platforms, but now, the watchdog is shifting its focus a little, looking at the caravan industry.

In November, the ACCC published a pair of surveys: one for retailers and one for consumers. A total of 2,270 consumers responded to the survey and today, the results of these have been published.

The report is 38 pages long, but the overarching message from the ACCC is that Australian consumers have reported widespread consumer guarantee failures, misrepresentations by caravan suppliers and unexpected delays in the delivery and repair of caravans.

The report shows that over 60 per cent of respondents paid over $60,000 for their caravan and 37 per cent had to wait more than six months for delivery of their purchased caravan. 80 per cent, however, experienced a failure with their caravan.

The report highlights issues of concern to the ACCC and provides guidance to businesses about their obligations to comply with Australian Consumer Law.

Under Australian Consumer Law, sometimes referred to as ACL, if your caravan fails to meet one or more consumer guarantees (for example, it is not of acceptable quality or doesn’t match a description made by a supplier), then you’re entitled to a remedy from the supplier. A remedy can be a repair, replacement or refund.

The ACCC said if a consumer guarantee failure is minor, the supplier can choose to offer you a repair. If the supplier refuses to offer you a repair for the minor failure, you are entitled to a refund or a replacement. If a failure is major, you are entitled to your choice of a replacement or refund. If you’re entitled to a caravan repair and it is not done within a reasonable timeframe, the ACCC said under ACL, the consumer is entitled to have the repair done by another party and recover the reasonable costs incurred by the consumer in doing so from the supplier and also reject the goods and elect to get a refund or have the goods replaced by the supplier.

Separately, the ACCC report said that a consumer is entitled to recover damages against the caravan supplier for any loss or damage they suffered due to the failure to comply with consumer guarantees.

The problem, however, is that failure to provide a consumer with a remedy is not a civil penalty provision under ACL. As a result, the ACCC wants ACL to be strengthened, such as through the introduction of prohibitions, supported by penalties and other enforcement mechanisms, including against suppliers not providing remedies for consumer guarantee failures.

Consumers also reported they believed suppliers made misrepresentations about their caravan’s performance capabilities and tow-weight.

“Reports of misleading representations about caravan’s tow-weight and other important performance capabilities are particularly worrying given the grave safety implications for consumers,” ACCC chair Delia Rickard said.

“The ACCC will investigate and take enforcement action against suppliers and manufacturers we believe may have misled consumers.”

Why is the ACCC targeting caravans?

As of January 31, 2021, there were 698,353 caravans registered in Australia, with registration increasing by 26 per cent over the last 5 years. The ACCC said it is concerned with the rising number of complaints (1,300) it has received about caravans during this time.

If we take a look back, in 2017, the ACCC instituted court proceedings against Jayco, alleging that the business acted unconscionably and made false or misleading representations to four consumers about their right to obtain a refund or replacement for their defective caravan. In late 2020, the Federal Court dismissed the majority of the ACCC’s claims, although the Court has since imposed penalties of $75,000 against Jayco for misleading one consumer about their consumer guarantee rights. It’s no wonder the caravan industry has become a focus for the watchdog.

You can read the ACCC’s New caravan retailing report over here.

This article has been updated since it was first published.