The ACCC’s one day crack down on website T&Cs should just be a reminder to business owners that not protecting themselves against legal liability could bring heavy fines, says internet law expert Jamie White.
Sept 19, 2012: Businesses must act now to ensure all of their web terms and conditions comply with legal requirements before increasingly vigilant legal watchdogs catch up with anyone whose small print hides bad practice.
Yesterday the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched a one day internet sweep to catch out websites that are flaunting consumer rights or actively misleading customers with their own non-compliant refund policies.
If caught out, fines could be as high as $200K for individuals and $1.1m for businesses. But illegal refund terms are just the tip of an iceberg that could sink non-compliant small businesses altogether.
“Businesses need to look at a whole suite of terms and conditions that govern the customer-website relationship,” says White. “There are broad requirements they might not be aware of. The fines in this area are heavy, so it is better to invest in getting the right T&Cs now, rather than risk your business altogether.”
However, too many businesses think that cutting and pasting from another site or just making terms up will cover them.
“The fact is, you cannot override consumer protection legislation by coming up with your own T&Cs, such as a 14 day refund policy – which isn’t legal. Getting it right from the start, means you are protected from possible big fines later on.”
White recommends businesses look at:
“It’s really to set out the terms and conditions around acceptable use of your website and allowing the owner to disclaim liability associated with the website,” he says.
“Businesses with a turnover of under $3m a year aren’t legally required to comply with the Privacy Act. However it is best practice and instils confidence in the customer.”
“If you have an e-commerce website you need to display purchasing and shipping terms that are made clear before a customer actually pays.”
And he warns that the law is closing in on anyone contravening the rules. “There has been a big disconnect between legal rules in the ‘real world’ and what applies in the virtual one. But that gap is rapidly closing.”