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Summary: Would you know if some of your consumer rights were left out of a telco contract? And could it end up costing you? ACCAN's fine print project reveals some concerning findings, with the ACCC asked to step in to protect consumers.

 Magnifying glass close up on a contract's text

ACCAN is today releasing the "Fine Print" project report. This is a 2013 ACCAN research project into misleading or unfair terms in telco consumer contracts. Our researcher, Dr Jeannie Paterson, a consumer law expert from Melbourne Law School, examined the contracts for 42 products across ten providers.

Now that ACCAN has completed engagement with the major telcos on the findings, we are releasing a public version of the report which contains an update and summary.

What the research found

On the positive side, the project revealed that most of the contracts reviewed complied with requirements in the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code aimed at ensuring a fair contracting process. Most contracts also were accessible.

Unfortunately, most of the contracts reviewed contained terms that did not comply with some aspects of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). There were many terms found that tried to limit the provider's liability and failed to mention the rights guaranteed to consumers by the ACL. The guarantees are for example that products should be fit for purpose and that consumers have the right to refunds or repairs.

A win with the major providers

In the course of 2013, ACCAN met with the major providers and the ACCC to talk about the contracts we surveyed. While we didn't agree on everything, the major providers did see that some of their terms could be improved and as a result of our engagement some were indeed changed to be more fair and more accurate.

Smaller providers still a problem

ACCAN is concerned that the contracts of some medium-sized and smaller providers continue to contain misleading or unfair terms and these providers have often been difficult or impossible to communicate with.

As a result, late last year ACCAN wrote to the ACCC to draw the regulator's attention to terms remaining in the contracts of Netspeed, Aldi, Dodo and TPG that lack the legally required mention of the ACL.

Why is this important?

Put simply, some contract terms which try to limit liability of providers when things don't work are misleading consumers about their rights. You could be paying for things which are really the provider's responsibility. The ACCC has indicated that it is moving to take more enforcement action, so ACCAN hopes our work helps the regulator in its efforts.

See the full report