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Avoid taking an unfair advantage

IF it is apparent that a potential customer may not have the capacity to make a voluntary or informed decision about the implications and/or benefits of their purchasing or contractual decisions, then businesses need to be aware of their obligations. The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission says businesses must act responsibly and take extra care in their dealings to ensure that no unfair advantage is taken. The ACCC believes it comes down to how that business will be perceived within the community when dealing with disadvantaged or vulnerable consumers such as: •whether they have a low income; •are from a non-English speaking background; •have a disability—intellectual, psychiatric, physical, sensory, neurological or a learning disability; •have a serious or chronic illness; •have poor reading, writing and numerical skills; •are homeless; •are very young; •are old; •come from a remote area; or •have an Indigenous background. The ACCC says that not all consumers with these characteristics are more at risk of poor business practices but the marketing message and conduct of the business may affect some consumers differently when making decisions about buying goods or services. “It is also important to note, however, that businesses should continue to contract or do business with consumers who may experience a disadvantage or vulnerability, as a refusal to deal will not be in any party’s interests, and may be in danger of breaching anti-discrimination legislation,” the ACCC says. Following are some ways to prepare your business. •Are your staff aware of fair trading, anti-discrimination and other relevant laws? Have they received relevant training? •Be alert to any special needs your consumers have and make sure you have systems in place to prevent any unfair treatment. •Is your marketing message clear and accurate? Keep in mind the different needs of current and potential consumers. •Are all documents you use to market goods or services to consumers clear and simple? During a transaction •Have you clearly disclosed important or unusual terms or conditions of the agreement? •Does the consumer understand the terms of any agreement associated with the transaction? •Has the consumer had an opportunity to consider the offer properly? Make sure they are not flustered, agitated or in a highly emotional state when they enter into a contract. Observe any cooling-off periods that may apply or consider offering a cooling-off period in writing. •Consider that it may be appropriate for a guardian, carer or other appropriate person to be present to either act on the customer’s behalf and/or help explain and assist the customer with the decision. If you are in any doubt, give the consumer an opportunity to seek advice about the contract before they sign it. Make sure your actions, whether intentional or not, do not take advantage of any characteristic listed under the heading, “What do we mean by ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘vulnerable’?” After a transaction •If things go wrong, be open to resolving complaints and, where appropriate, setting aside contracts or agreements. •Do not reward your staff or agents for unfair, pressure-based selling.

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