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Information for consumers and businesses affected by COVID-19

The Queensland Government is responding to the emergence of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, across the state.

Both consumers and businesses should be aware of issues that may arise during a health crisis.

This page is broken down into information for consumers and information for businesses, licensees, associations or non-profits regulated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

Your rights and responsibilities as a consumer:

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

COVID-19 restrictions on businesses have further eased, with a number of stage 5 changes starting at 4pm on 17 November 2020.

The ongoing changes are designed to allow businesses to reopen in a way that does not compromise the health of the community. They are detailed in the Queensland Government’s Roadmap to easing restrictions and Restrictions on Business, Activities and Undertakings Direction (No. 9).

Your rights 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 coronavirus.

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 novel coronavirus infections.

Advertisements for therapeutic goods in Australia are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Advertisements that claim to prevent or cure novel coronavirus 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 coronavirus 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 (coronavirus) 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.

Genuine street and door-to-door charity collectors should:

  • wear prominent identification, such as an armlet or badge
  • issue receipts (unless a collection box is used, or the donation is given in exchange for a promotional item such as a badge, emblem, pen or artificial flower)
  • be able to produce a current written authority from the association they claim to be collecting for
  • be 15 or older, or be accompanied by an adult
  • door knock only between 9am and 5pm.

If you don’t think a collector is genuine, do not donate and report them to us at registrationservices@justice.qld.gov.au.

Ensure you note down as much information as possible, including a description of the collector and their vehicle registration number.

Be suspicious if a collector:

  • does not have any identification or you think the identification looks forged
  • cannot or will not give you details about the charity (e.g. its full name, address or phone number)
  • becomes defensive when asked what the charity does and how much of the donation gets taken up by costs
  • asks for cash, will not accept a cheque or asks for a cheque to be made out to them rather than to the charity
  • does not want to provide a receipt or the receipt does not have the charity’s details on it.

You should also be aware of:

  • illegitimate collectors who may
    • set up false websites or social media accounts
    • send letters or emails similar to those used by real charities
  • fake charities that use unsolicited telephone calls or emails to ask for donations.

Tools for checking charities

To help you determine if a charity is legitimate, you can search our register for free.

You can also search the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission database to see if an organisation has been granted charity status.

If you want to fundraise

If you wish to publicly fundraise in Queensland, you must be registered with us or authorised by a registered charity to collect on their behalf.

Weddings

Weddings and associated activities (e.g. receptions and photography) have been significantly impacted by the restrictions introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19.

These restrictions have been gradually easing.

From 4pm, 17 November 2020, a maximum of 200 guests can attend a wedding and all guests can dance (both indoors and outdoors).

The number of people permitted to 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.

Businesses must continue to comply with general Chief Health Officer requirements, such as observing social distancing and collecting and keeping customer contact details. Learn more about these and other COVID-19 business requirements.

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 introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19.

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.

As of 4pm, 17 November 2020, a maximum of 200 people can attend a funeral as detailed in Stage 5 of the Roadmap to easing restrictions and Restrictions on Businesses, Activities and Undertakings Direction No. 9.

To exceed this number of people, a request for an exemption on compassionate grounds must be made to the Chief Health Officer.

Businesses must continue to comply with general Chief Health Officer requirements, such as observing social distancing and collecting and keeping customer contact details. Learn more about these and other COVID-19 business requirements.

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.

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.

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 were 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.

These restrictions have been gradually easing:

  • From 1 June 2020, up to 20 people including the instructor could participate in a fitness activity (indoor and outdoor)—as long as it was not a contact sport and the 1.5m social distancing rule was observed and the space was big enough for no more than 1 person per 4m2.
  • From 5 June 2020, fitness industry businesses could have more than 20 people participating in fitness activities if the business operated under the Queensland Health approved Fitness Facilities – Industry COVID Safe Plan (PDF, 312KB)
  • From 3 July 2020, the fitness industry could continue to operate under the approved Fitness Facilities – Industry COVID Safe Plan (PDF, 312KB) and contact-based activities and skills training, such as boxing, could resume. The rules for one person per 4m2 applied (or if the space was less than 200m2, 1 person per 2m2, up to 50 people). These rules applied inside gyms and other facilities, but not on the playing field.

As of 4pm, 17 November 2020, businesses in the fitness industry may have 1 person per 2m2 inside their premises, as detailed in Stage 5 of the Roadmap to easing restrictions and Restrictions on Business, Activities and Undertakings Direction (No. 9). They must continue to operate under the approved Fitness Facilities – Industry COVID Safe Plan.

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

For more information on COVID-19 requirements for the fitness industry, see Businesses, activities and undertakings.

Property agents

Some restrictions placed on property licensees regarding social distancing and open houses, inspections and auctions have eased, however it is important to note that agents must always operate in line with the COVID Safe Framework.

Formerly:

  • From 16 May 2020, a maximum of 10 people plus 3 agency staff could participate in open houses and auctions.
  • From 1 June 2020, a maximum of 20 people plus 3 agency staff could participate in open houses and auctions.
  • From 3 July 2020, the number of attendees became limited only by the square metre rules. That was, 1 person per 4m2—or if the home or space was less than 200m2, 1 person per 2m2 was allowed, up to 50 people.

As of 4pm, 17 November 2020, all restricted businesses, including real estate agents and auctioneers, may have one person per 2m2 on a premises, as detailed in Stage 5 of the Roadmap to easing restrictions and Restrictions on Business, Activities and Undertakings Direction (No. 9).

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.

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

For more information on COVID-19 requirements for the property industry, see Businesses, activities and undertakings.

Tattoo operators

In response to the spread of COVID-19, on 24 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced a ban on all tattooing procedures in Australia until further notice. In Queensland this ban was put in place by the Chief Health Officer and meant tattooists and operators could not perform tattooing anywhere in Queensland, including in their own home, until the government relaxed the restrictions.

Since then these requirements have been gradually easing:

  • From 1 June 2020, in stage 2 of the Roadmap to easing Queensland's restrictions, up to 20 people were allowed in a tattooist’s premises at any time, as long as there were no more than 1 person per 4m2. The 1.5m social distancing rules were observed and a COVID Safe checklist (PDF, 347KB) was in place.
  • From 3 July 2020, providing a COVID Safe checklist (PDF, 347KB) was in place, the maximum number of customers allowed in a tattooist's premises was determined by the square metre rule. That was, 1 customer per 4m2 was allowed inside a large business premises, while premises smaller than 200m2 were allowed 1 customer per 2m2.

From 4pm, 17 November 2020—provided a COVID Safe checklist (PDF) is in place—tattoo operators may have 1 person per 2m2 inside their premises, as detailed in Stage 5 of the Roadmap to easing restrictions and Restrictions on Business, Activities and Undertakings Direction (No. 9).

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

For more information on COVID-19 requirements for the tattoo industry, see Businesses, activities and undertakings.

Incorporated associations, charities and not-for-profits

The restrictions implemented by the government to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have impacted on 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. 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.

Normally an individual association seeking an extension must apply to OFT, outlining the special circumstances for why the extension should be granted. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is considered appropriate to give associations an extension until 30 April 2021 without the need to lodge an extension application.

In effect, this may result in the management committee’s term being longer than that described in the rules. For associations that use this extension, we hope members will be accepting of this decision.

A recent amendment to 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. Given the COVID-19 situation, management committee members may wish to take advantage of this provision where appropriate.

Directions from the Chief Health Officer may change. When calling meetings, the management committee should be fully aware of restrictions for the number of people allowed to 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 this 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 timeframe 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.

If necessary, we will consider granting a further extension closer to 30 April 2021 depending on the directions from the Chief Health Officer at that time.

Funeral providers

In response to the spread of COVID-19, on 22 March 2020, the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet decided to expand restrictions on non-essential business. This included restricting the number of people who could attend funerals to a maximum of 10. In Queensland this ban was put in place by the Chief Health Officer (Non-essential business, activity and undertaking, Closure Direction (No.2)).

Since then restrictions have been gradually easing:

  • From 16 May 2020 (Stage 1 of the Roadmap), the number of people who could attend funerals increased to a maximum of 20 people for indoor services or 30 people for outdoor services.
  • On 1 June 2020, the number of people who could attend a funeral was increased to 50 with an additional 3 people to conduct the service.
  • On 16 June 2020, a maximum of 100 people could attend a funeral, with an additional 3 people to conduct the service.
  • From 3 July 2020, funerals could be attended by a maximum of 100 people regardless of the size of the venue.

From 4pm, 17 November 2020, funerals may be attended by a maximum of 200 people, as detailed in Stage 5 of the Roadmap to easing restrictions and Restrictions on Business, Activities and Undertakings Direction (No. 9).

To exceed 200 people, a request for an exemption on compassionate grounds must be made to the Chief Health Officer.

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

For more information on COVID-19 requirements for the funeral industry, see Businesses, activities and undertakings.

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.

If found guilty of unconscionable conduct, the maximum fines are:

  • for a corporation, the greater of
    • $10 million
    • 3 times the value of the benefit received
    • 10% of annual turnover in the preceding 12 months, where the benefit cannot be calculated.
  • for an individual, $500,000 per breach.

Checking your supply chains

As governments shut down supply chains to limit the possible spread of coronavirus, 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 resources and fact sheets to help industry and businesses understand and prepare for the impacts of COVID-19.

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