Consumer Affairs Victoria provides information and advice to consumers, businesses, tenants, landlords, residents and owners of rooming houses, retirement villages and caravan parks about their rights, responsibilities and changes to the law.The independent Victorian Building Authority will soon take over from CAV as a ‘one stop shop’ for building issues.
Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) is part of the Victorian Government’s Department of Justice and Community Safety. As Victoria’s consumer affairs regulator, CAV’s role is to:
• advise and educate businesses, landlords, consumers and tenants – including vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers – about their rights, responsibilities and changes to the law;
• enforce compliance with the legislation it administers;
• review and advise the Victorian Government on consumer legislation and industry codes;
• register and license businesses and occupations; and
• conciliate disputes between consumers and traders, and tenants and landlords.
CAV provides information and advice to businesses and consumers through its website, telephone helpline, smartphone aps, and via social media. CAV has metropolitan and regional offices (in Ballarat, Bendigo, Box Hill, Dandenong, Mildura, Morwell, Reservoir, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Warrnambool, Werribee, Wodonga and Geelong) and has a mobile service that regularly visits many other Victorian locations. For CAV’s contact details, see “Contacts”.
CAV is responsible for administering many Victorian Acts and regulations, including the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012, Residential Tenancies Act 1997, Estate Agents Act 1980, Conveyancers Act 2006, Owners Corporations Act 2006, Retirement Villages Act 1986, Motor Car Traders Act 1986 and Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995. CAV uses an “integrated compliance approach”, which means it uses a range of criminal, civil and administrative measures to address non-compliance with the laws it administers.
CAV provides information and advice
CAV’s extensive website (www.consumer.vic.gov.au) provides a vast array of resources (information, advice, checklists, videos, tips, definitions of key terms, examples of complaint letters, and letter templates) for consumers, businesses, tenants, landlords, and residents and owners of rooming houses, retirement villages and caravan parks. You can also call CAV’s helpline to receive information and advice.
1 CAV can help you resolve the issue yourself
If you are a consumer having a dispute with a business, first try to resolve the issue yourself by directly communicating with the business. (There is a step-by-step guide on how to do this on CAV’s website.) When you write or speak to the business, or someone with the authority to represent it (e.g. a manager), explain your concerns and suggest a resolution (see “Self-help”). Have any relevant information with you when you communicate with the business, so you can clearly state your rights and their obligations under the law. Many complaints are resolved at this stage with the correct information. If, after following the step-by-step dispute resolution guide on CAV’s website, you are unable to resolve your dispute, you can request to use CAV’s conciliation service.
Facilitated by a CAV officer, conciliation is an informal process that helps you and the business to resolve a dispute by communicating, identifying the issues in dispute, and exploring options for resolution.
There are criteria for assessing whether disputes are suitable for CAV’s conciliation service. The key requirements include:
• the dispute must be within CAV’s jurisdiction;
• an attempt must have been made to resolve the dispute with the business;
• the dispute must not have been determined by, or be pending in, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) or the courts; and
• there must be a reasonable likelihood that the dispute will be settled.
For more information about the criteria for accessing CAV’s conciliation service, see CAV’s conciliation policy, available on its website (www.consumer.vic.gov.au).
CAV’s conciliation service is voluntary; traders and consumers cannot be forced to participate. Also, CAV can not make a binding determination or force a party to accept a particular outcome (only VCAT or the courts can force a business to resolve an issue). CAV aims to resolve disputes efficiently and constructively, to ensure systemic issues are identified, inappropriate conduct is stopped, and redress is obtained when appropriate. CAV also provides specialist conciliation services, such as the Estate Agents Resolution Service.
If your dispute cannot be resolved by conciliation, CAV can provide information and advice on what alternative remedies you can pursue, such as:
• taking the matter to VCAT;
• lodging a complaint with the relevant industry ombudsman;
• seeking legal advice.
While CAV provides extra help for consumers with a disability (see “Advocacy for people with a disability”), in most cases, it is up to the consumer to pursue alternative remedies.
VCAT has jurisdiction to determine consumer and trader disputes (ss 182, 184 ACL&FTA). For example, under the ACL&FTA (s 184(2)), VCAT can:
• refer the dispute to a mediator;
• order payment of money owed or damages;
• vary any term of a contract;
• declare that a term of a contract is void (including because it is an unfair contract term);
• order specific performance of a contract term;
• order the refund of any money paid under a contract;
• order rescission (cancellation) of a contract.
Free legal advice is available from community legal centres (see Legal services that can help).
For further information on the remedies available under current laws, see Consumer protection laws.
Intelligence (information) about bad behaviour in the market is important to CAV. It enables the agency to track emerging trends and to identify individual businesses, or problems within industry sectors, that may be causing harm to consumers.
You can report bad behaviour by filling in a complaint form (available on CAV’s website) and sending it to CAV; or, if reporting a scam, by filling in the online “dob in a scam” form on CAV’s website.
CAV works closely with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, the National Indigenous Consumer Strategy reference group (of which it is a member), and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commun-ities and individuals to help resolve consumer issues, and to develop resources for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers and businesses. CAV also provides a Koori helpline service that provides specialist advice (see “Contacts”).
The Consumer Action Law Centre also offers Koori Help (https://koorihelp.consumeraction.org.au; tel: 1800 574 457).
CAV provides free, one-to-one assistance for people with a disability who need extra help with a tenancy issue. CAV’s advocates can:
• explain tenants’ rights and responsibilities;
• explain documents;
• negotiate with landlords and property managers;
• prepare for, and appear at, VCAT hearings.