Australian regulator microscope on exploitation

Due to the rapidly changing global landscape following the impacts of COVID-19, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced on 27 March 2020 a "re-focus" of its 2020 Compliance and Enforcement Priorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it has not explicitly revoked its existing priorities, the ACCC has announced it will refocus is efforts to include addressing any behaviour the ACCC considers to be exploitative which results in disproportionate improvement of commercial position and/or consumer harm. The ACCC's newly formed COVID-19 Taskforce has been tasked with addressing COVID-19 related competition and consumer law issues.

In particular, while price changes commonly referred to as 'price gouging' are not, of themselves, illegal, misleading claims as to the reasons for price increases could be misleading or deceptive in breach of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). In addition, the laws in relation to unconscionable conduct, including those under the ACL, may apply in circumstances of extreme price gouging for essential products, such as face masks and hand sanitisers.

As particular industries have been shuttered by public health orders, and demand for others have grown, the ACCC has been proactive in publishing consumer guidance to advise consumers of their rights under the Australian Consumer Law. The ACCC's COVID-19 consumer information site found here includes information for consumers hit by travel and event cancellations, wedding cancellations and paying for services and gym memberships where facilities have been required to close. The ACCC guidance also covers advice in relation to price increases, food delivery services and telecommunications services, and provides links to consumers.

If you require any advice in relation to your business' response to COVID-19 please contact the team at Bird & Bird.

Last reviewed: 26 May 2020

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