Buying stuff: Your rights as a consumer

Beyond reminding you of the old saying, 'caveat emptor' - that's 'buyer beware' to the non-Latin scholars amongst us - here's a bit of advice about your rights under Australian Consumer Law, and guess what? You have more rights than you'd think!

Australian Consumer Law: the consumer guarantee

A shop isn't obliged to take something back and give you a refund just because you change your mind - but it's nice when they do and you can often check the returns policy on the store website to find out.

As a consumer you have substantial protection under the law against faulty or unsuitable products. Most goods you buy come with a consumer guarantee which a manufacturer or supplier must honour.

This means the things you buy have to be:

(a) fit for all the purposes for which goods of that kind are commonly supplied; and
(b) acceptable in appearance and finish;
(c) free from defects;
(d) safe;
(e) durable;
as you would reasonably expect them to be.

If you pay for something which doesn't meet these standards, you can take it back and get it repaired, replaced or have a refund depending on how serious the problem is.

For a 'minor' problem the supplier can chose to repair or replace the item, or offer a refund. If something cannot be fixed you can choose a refund, replacement or compensation.

Signs saying 'no refunds' are unlawful, as are signs saying that something is only covered by a manufacturer's warranty, or no warranty at all.

Keep your receipt!

You do need a receipt to make any claim from a supplier. A good shop might still honour the request but they don't have to if you haven't got the paperwork.

Get moving

You won't always be able to take goods back if too much time has passed. This will depend on the type of item, how long it was used before the fault or problem developed and how long a consumer should reasonably expect to be able to use the item without faults.

Remember your contract is with the supplier. You should first approach them about any problem with a good or service.


The most common areas of complaint are excessive billing, errors in billing and overcharging. It's obvious, but the best thing you can do is be informed about how your provider charges and what is included in your plan.

Don't just suck it up!

If you have a problem with a phone provider, don't ignore it! You should first put your complaint in writing through the dispute resolution process which they must have (look up the details of this service in the Contacts page of the provider's website). If you don't get a reply, writing on your provider's Facebook page usually gets a response. 

If you can't resolve the dispute directly with the provider you can use the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. This is absolutely free for consumers, and all phone providers must participate.

Gym Contracts

Gyms can't charge you an up-front fee for any more than a 12 month period - so don't agree to these. Don't provide anyone with your credit card details during a trial period (lots of gyms ask you to do this). 

Check whether the gym is a member of Fitness Australia. If they are, they have to comply with the Fitness Industry Code of Practice, which obliges gyms to have a 7 day cooling off period, when you join, cancel contracts in certain circumstances and participate in dispute resolution.

What if my goods are linked to a service contract?

If you receive goods as part of a service contract (e.g. mobile phone) and the goods are faulty, you can ask that the contract be continued with the supplied goods replaced, or cancel the contract and be released from further obligations.

No success?

You can ask the Office of Fair Trading to intervene in a consumer dispute, or you can apply to the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal.

You can also approach the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) if a term in a consumer contract is unfair.


You can ask for an itemised bill for any service, and it must be provided without charge, within 7 days of the request, and expressed in plain English. This applies to mobile phone contracts as well.

Handy Websites

Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

Fair Trading NSW

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

Need more information?

If you are a UNSW student and Arc member we can give you free legal advice. Send us an email or book an appointment with us here.

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