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Information for consumers and businesses affected by COVID-19

This page is broken down into information about COVID-19 restrictions for consumers and businesses as well as licensees, associations and non-profits regulated by the Office of Fair Trading.

Your rights and responsibilities as a consumer:

Your rights as a business, licensee, association or non-profit:

Your rights and responsibilities as a consumer

Cancelled travel and events

Where a business has to cancel travel (e.g. a flight or a cruise) or an event (e.g. concert, sporting fixture or theatre performance) because of a government ruling made after the goods or services were sold but before they are due to be provided, then you may not be entitled to a refund under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

Similarly, if you can no longer use other associated goods or services (e.g. accommodation, tours or car hire) because your travel has been cancelled under a government ruling made after you booked and paid, you are also unlikely to be entitled to a refund under the ACL. Read more about frustrated contracts.

We recommend that you contact the trader to see what remedy they can offer. Many traders have made public statements that they are helping their customers by providing remedies like:

  • full or partial refunds
  • credit notes
  • vouchers.

If the trader does not provide a remedy and you paid by credit card, contact the bank to see if they can reverse the transaction.

If you have insurance, you should check the terms and conditions of your policy to see if your situation is covered. For assistance and advice with insurance matters, contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.

If you have been affected by the cancellation of travel or an event as a result of COVID-19 and you believe you are entitled to redress but have not been able to get it, you can lodge a complaint with us.

Price increases

You may notice increases in the price of basic goods during a disaster or health emergency (e.g. for face masks or hand sanitiser). This usually happens because it costs traders more to get goods into the shops to sell—they may have to transport things from further afield or use different transportation methods, which means bigger fuel bills; or they may have reduced staff available and are paying overtime rates.

Prices also go up as a result of supply and demand. You can expect prices to increase when there is a shortage of goods and a greater demand. We cannot prevent or take action to stop price rises, or price falls, as we have no role in setting prices.

The ACL protects you from ‘unconscionable conduct’ by businesses. This is defined as a statement or action that is so unreasonable that it defies good conscience (e.g. where the product is critical to the health or safety of vulnerable consumers).

Businesses must not act unconscionably when selling or supplying goods and services to you, or when supplying or acquiring goods and services to or from a business.

Excessive price increases during a disaster or health emergency is sometimes called price gouging or profiteering.

If you think that price increases seem excessive or unreasonable, ask the trader to explain. If you are not satisfied with their response, you can lodge a complaint with us. When lodging a complaint, please ensure that you can provide as much information as possible, including:

  • trader name and location
  • a description of the goods and the price
  • copies of receipts
  • a photo of the sale sign.

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Availability of ordered products

It may take longer for imported goods to arrive in Australia as governments shut down supply chains or introduce additional checks to limit the possible spread of COVID-19.

Businesses cannot promise customers usual supply timeframes once they know that they can no longer be met, or are unlikely to be met. If they do so it is likely to be misrepresentation under the ACL.

If you find yourself in this situation, you can request a refund under the ACL, because goods need to be supplied within a ‘reasonable’ time. A ‘reasonable time’ will depend on the type of product.

However, if a business sold you goods before the supply chains were interrupted by changed government rules and then can’t supply them within the expected timeframe because of the rules, it is unlikely to be a breach of the ACL. Although you may still be entitled to a remedy. You should check the terms and conditions of your contract with the business to see what the situation is for your purchase.

We suggest you have understanding and patience during this unusual time, because many businesses are having to implement or change their sales processes and customer management policies and procedures at very short notice.

Talk to the business about your concerns and see if a remedy can be offered.

If the business fails to respond within a reasonable time, or if you believe the business is not providing a remedy you may be entitled to, you can lodge a complaint with us.

Miracle cures

Some therapeutic goods (e.g. medicines or disinfectants) may be advertised or promoted to prevent or cure COVID-19 infections.

Advertisements for therapeutic goods in Australia are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Advertisements that claim to prevent or cure COVID-10 are likely to be in breach of these laws as they may include unsupported claims or restricted representations.

Be cautious when considering purchasing goods or services because of claims made in advertising. It is best to speak to a health care professional if you have health concerns.

Scams

The spread of COVID-19 can bring on fear and anxiety for many people in the community. Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage of the situation to exploit and play on these fears.

Scams associated with COVID-19 that have been identified include:

  • fake online stores and/or social media accounts that claim to sell medical or health products, such as cures or vaccinations for COVID-19 and face masks
  • phone calls where the scammer claims to be a relative that needs money for medical treatment
  • phishing scams via email or text claiming to be from a bank or government organisations such as the Department of Health or the World Health Organisation, with links and/or attachments containing malware to obtain personal data
  • superannuation scams offering to help you access your account or check if you are eligible for various benefits or claiming you will be locked out of your account.

More information about COVID-19 scams is available from ScamWatch.

Protect yourself

It is important to stay vigilant and aware during these uncertain times. If you are worried about a phone call, email, social media post or text message, it is best not to respond or click on any links. Learn more about how to protect yourself against scams.

Report it

If you think you have been scammed, you can report it to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on the ScamWatch website.

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Fake charities

Scammers also use emergencies to pose as charity collectors, pretending to raise funds for people in need.

Queenslanders are known for their generosity and should not be put off donating. Instead, you should do your homework to make sure your donation will reach the groups you want to help.

Read more about charity scams.

Weddings

Weddings and associated activities (e.g. receptions and photography) have been impacted by restrictions due to COVID-19. For more information, read the frequently asked questions about the restrictions on different types of businesses and the latest COVID-19 updates from the Queensland Government.

Businesses must continue to comply with general Chief Health Officer requirements, such as observing social distancing and collecting and keeping customer contact details.

The number of people who can attend a wedding reception is also impacted by the requirements for the business, activity, undertaking, premises or place where the reception is held. For example, if a wedding reception is hosted by a restaurant, the approved plan or COVID Safe Checklist for the restaurant will determine how many guests can attend.

Changes, cancellations and postponements

If you wish to change, cancel or postpone your wedding plans due to the COVID-19 restrictions, contact your providers to see what options are available. They may offer options like a refund, credit note or voucher to re-book your wedding once the restrictions are lifted.

In situations like this, where the changes are due to new government rules brought in after you booked but before the suppliers were due to deliver the service, your rights under the ACL may be impacted. This is because it is neither the consumer’s nor the trader’s fault that the goods and services can’t be supplied as arranged. Whether you are entitled to a refund will depend on the terms and conditions of your contract with each supplier.

If cancelling or postponing is not an option, there may be other possibilities to consider such as live streaming, a virtual reception or other technology-assisted solutions.

Associated expenses

If you need to cancel bookings or orders related to your wedding, you should contact each provider to see if they are able to offer a refund or other remedy.

Whether you are entitled to a remedy will again depend on the terms and conditions of your contract with each vendor and you may have rights under contract law where the contract can no longer be upheld.

Learn more about event cancellations due to COVID-19.

Wedding insurance

If you have wedding insurance, contact your insurer to see if you are covered for the cancellation and lodge a claim.

If your claim is unresolved, you can contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) for help. They have a significant event support hotline for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funerals

Funerals and associated activities (e.g. wakes) have been significantly impacted by the restrictions due to COVID-19. For more information, read the frequently asked questions about the restrictions on different types of businesses and the latest COVID-19 updates from the Queensland Government.

Businesses must also continue to comply with general Chief Health Officer requirements, such as observing social distancing and collecting and keeping customer contact details.

Planning a funeral

There are a number of ways you can plan and prepare for the cost of funerals. In addition to special savings accounts, there are:

Whichever way a funeral has been planned, the rules put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 still apply.

For more information, read the frequently asked questions about the restrictions on different types of businesses and the latest COVID-19 updates from the Queensland Government.

Frustrated contracts, force majeure and the impacts of COVID-19

If you have a contract that can’t be completed because of the COVID-19 restrictions, it may be a frustrated contract or fall under a force majeure clause.

The government restrictions may have limited the goods and services that businesses can supply to consumers. Some contractual obligations between businesses and their customers will have been impacted by this.

Learn more about frustrated contracts, force majeure and the impacts of COVID-19.

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Your rights and responsibilities as a licensee, association or non-profit

Licences, audits and renewals

If you are having difficulty meeting an OFT lodgment date because of the impact of COVID-19, you may be eligible for extenuating circumstances provisions for renewal applications, trust account audits or annual returns.

We determine applications on a case-by-case basis. Please email us at ilu@justice.qld.gov.au if you need an extension and one of our officers will contact you as soon as possible.

If you need to renew your licence, our online form lodgment and payment portal is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also login at any time to track the status of your licence or certificate renewal with us.

Note that only these people can renew online:

  • real estate salespersons
  • individual real estate agents
  • individual motor dealers
  • individual field agents
  • individual security providers.

Price gouging or profiteering

We understand that prices for basic goods may increase during a health emergency due to transportation costs, overtime rates or supply and demand.

You must not act unconscionably when selling or supplying goods and services to the community, or when supplying or acquiring goods and services to or from a business.

Checking your supply chains

As governments shut down supply chains to limit the possible spread of COVID-19, it may take longer for goods that are coming from overseas to arrive.

We understand that this is out of your control. However, you must not take orders and promise consumers the usual supply times knowing that these cannot be met or are unlikely to be met. To do so could be considered misleading conduct under the ACL and significant penalties apply.

We recommend that you take reasonable precautions and exercise due diligence by making contingency plans to try to reduce the impact of this situation as much as you can.

The ACL provides guarantees for products and services purchased in Australia and if you fail to meet your obligations to a consumer, they have the right to a remedy.

Read more about guarantees, warranties and refunds.

Business recovery

Information about assistance for small businesses from the Queensland and Australian governments is available from Business Queensland or you can phone 1300 654 687.

If you are finding it difficult to meet your company obligations during a crisis, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) may be able to provide you with information.

There are also resources and fact sheets for industry and business to help understand and prepare for COVID-19 impacts.

Travel industry

COVID-19 has significantly impacted businesses operating in the travel industry. Many are struggling to manage the volume of cancellations and the financial implications of the pandemic. It is important to recognise that many consumers are also experiencing financial hardship at this time and the concerns of both travel businesses and their customers should be balanced.

Businesses involved in the travel industry need to remain conscious of their legal obligations and treat consumers fairly.

Australian Consumer Law (ACL) regulators, including OFT, have developed a best-practice guide to help. The information in the guide relates primarily to situations where travel services have been cancelled as a result of COVID-19, rather than, for example, where travel services will still proceed but the consumer has decided to cancel their booking.

Incorporated associations, charities and not-for-profits

The restrictions implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19 has impacted the running of incorporated associations and charities registered in Queensland.

The Associations Incorporation Act 1981 requires an association’s annual general meeting (AGM) to be held within 6 months of the end of their financial year. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all associations were provided an automatic extension of time until 30 April 2021 to hold their AGM without the need to lodge an extension application.

The Act allows all associations to hold meetings by video conferencing if they wish, provided members can hear and take part in discussions as they happen. Any association which is unable to hold its AGM within the required time frame may apply for an extension in writing to registration.services@justice.qld.gov.au.

There is an existing provision in the Act (s. 121) that allows the chief executive to grant an extension to an association for holding its AGM.

Directions from the Chief Health Officer may change from time to time. When calling meetings, the management committee should make sure they are aware of any restrictions that may be in place at the time, for example, how many people can gather at the venue and the social distancing required. Learn more about the Chief Health Officer requirements.

It's important for associations to note that any extension provided by OFT is only for AGM obligations under the Associations Incorporation Act 1981. Some associations may have obligations under other laws, which will require them to hold their AGM within a certain time frame and/or that they lodge their financial statements by a certain date. For example, if an association has a gaming machine licence under the Gaming Machine Act 1991, they still need to lodge their audited financial statements with the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (OLGR) by the due date.

Debt collectors

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, consumers and businesses may default on their debts as a result of things beyond their control, like business closures, unemployment, illnesses or other personal circumstances. This may lead to an increase in use of the services of a debt collector.

Consumer protection laws—including laws relevant to debt collection—are enforced by:

We recommend flexibility if you are dealing with debtors who are vulnerable and experiencing financial hardship.

A flexible approach would include negotiating meaningful and sustainable payment arrangements with the debtor, allowing them to cover reasonable ongoing living expenses and live in basic comfort to prevent impoverishment or humiliation.

Most people are honest and will want to meet their debt commitments if you give them a reasonable opportunity to do so. Learn more from the ACCC’s debt collection guidelines.

Queensland debt collectors must comply with specific rules. Field agents, debt collectors and sub-contractors must be licensed under the Debt Collectors (Field Agents and Collection Agents) Act 2014.

Unlicensed debt collecting, repossession and process serving work is against the law.

Learn more about these obligations and how to manage your debt collecting business.

Fitness industry

Some COVID-19 restrictions have been placed on businesses in the fitness industry, including indoor sporting centres, gyms, health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre, spin, saunas, bathhouses, wellness centres, boot camps and personal training.

Fitness industry businesses must operate under the approved Fitness Facilities – Industry COVID Safe Plan.

For more information, read the frequently asked questions about the restrictions on different types of businesses and the latest COVID-19 updates from the Queensland Government.

Property agents

COVID-19 restrictions have been placed on open houses, inspections and auctions. For more information, read the frequently asked questions about the restrictions on different types of businesses and the latest COVID-19 updates from the Queensland Government.

It is important to note that agents must always operate in line with the COVID Safe Business Framework.

Businesses must also continue to comply with general Chief Health Officer requirements, such as observing social distancing and collecting and keeping customer contact details.

On 2 December 2020, the Chief Health Officer approved the Queensland Real Estate COVID Safe Industry Plan. The plan was developed by industry in consultation with health authorities, representatives of property industry peak bodies and stakeholders. It provides a resource to help real estate businesses continue to operate under Queensland’s COVID-19 restrictions and assist in containing any transmission of COVID-19 among real estate staff, clients and visitors.

Tattoo operators

COVID-19 restrictions are currently in place for tattoo operators. Tattoo operators must operate under a COVID Safe Checklist or COVID Safe Plan.

For more information, read the frequently asked questions about the restrictions on different types of businesses and the latest COVID-19 updates from the Queensland Government.

Businesses must also continue to comply with general Chief Health Officer requirements, such as observing social distancing and collecting and keeping customer contact details.

Funeral providers

COVID-19 restrictions are currently in place for funeral providers. Funerals may be conducted at a venue with a COVID Safe Plan, checklist or event checklist.

Businesses must also continue to comply with general Chief Health Officer requirements, such as observing social distancing and collecting and keeping customer contact details.

For more information, read the frequently asked questions about the restrictions on different types of businesses and the latest COVID-19 updates from the Queensland Government.

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