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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 as a consumer:

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

COVID-19 restrictions on businesses start to ease from 16 May 2020. The changes are designed to enable businesses to re-open in a way that does not compromise the health of the community and are detailed in the Roadmap to Easing Queensland's Restrictions (Stage 1).

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, 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, 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 and do not 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.

The restrictions are easing from the original maximum of 5 people. From 16 May 2020, 10 people in addition to the celebrant and the couple, can be present at a wedding, with no more than 1 person per 4m2 and social distancing observed.

You must keep contact information about all guests and staff for contact tracing purposes, including their names, addresses and mobile phone numbers.

This information must be kept for a period of at least 28 days and provided to public health officers if requested. It should be securely stored, not used for any other purpose and deleted after 28 days.

If you have a wedding planned in the next few months, you should decide whether you would like to proceed with a much smaller ceremony, or whether you should speak to your suppliers about moving your event to a later date so it can be more consistent with your original plans.

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 travel or accommodation 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.

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 as a licensee, association or non-profit

Licences, audits and renewals

If you are having difficulty meeting an OFT lodgement 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 lodgement 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.

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. You must also:

  • be appointed in writing by your client who you are collecting the debt for
  • ensure your employees comply with the law
  • confirm the facts of an alleged debt to avoid errors, omissions, exaggerations or misrepresentation
  • hold a trust account if you collect debts for your client, and the money collected must be deposited into the trust account
  • issue detailed statements to both your client and the person you collect goods from within 7 days of collecting goods subject to a lease agreement, hire purchase agreement or bill of sale.

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

Fitness industry

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. Some of these restrictions are starting to ease from 16 May 2020, as detailed in the Roadmap to Easing Queensland's Restrictions.

We have answers to your frequently asked questions about your obligations and membership management options.

Property agents

Restrictions have been placed on property licensees regarding social distancing and open houses, inspections and auctions. Some of these restrictions for property agents are starting to ease from 16 May 2020 as detailed in the Roadmap to Easing Queensland's Restrictions.

We have developed a fact sheet that answers your frequently asked questions about your obligations under the Property Occupations Act 2014 and complying with social distancing rules.

Security providers

Renewals

We understand that due to COVID-19 some security providers may have difficulty accessing the ongoing training that is usually required before a licensee can renew. To help licensees in this difficult time, we are allowing a grace period of 12 months for you to complete this ongoing training. This applies to ongoing training that falls due between 1 March 2020 and 30 September 2020.

So if, for example, your ongoing training is due on 1 June 2020, it would now be due on 1 June 2021.

You still need to lodge and pay your licence renewal if it becomes due during this grace period in order to continue to work. Email us at ilu@justice.qld.gov.au if you have any questions.

New Zealand criminal history checks for licence applications

The New Zealand Ministry of Justice conducts criminal history checks on Queensland applicants applying for our security licences.

On 26 March 2020, New Zealand entered a month-long compulsory lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus and, as a result, these checks have been unable to be processed. However, on 14 May 2020, New Zealand moved to Level 2 restrictions and criminal history checks will be resumed by the Criminal Records Unit.

If you are having difficulty getting your New Zealand criminal history check completed, email us at ilu@justice.qld.gov.au. These licences have a condition that the New Zealand criminal history check must be supplied within 6 months.

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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.

This ban means tattooists and operators cannot perform tattooing anywhere in Australia, including in their own home, until the government relaxes the restrictions.

These restrictions are not being relaxed in Stage 1 of Queensland’s Roadmap to Easing Queensland's Restrictions. If all goes well with Stage 1, it is hoped tattoo operators may be able to open under Stage 2 with a COVID Safe Plan and Checklist in place.

For more information, read our frequently asked questions on COVID-19 for the Queensland tattoo industry.

Incorporated associations, charities and not-for-profits

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.

Normal practice is that an individual association must apply to OFT, outlining the special circumstances as to why the extension should be granted. However, in the current circumstances, we will allow a grace period of a further 6 months to hold your AGM, if required, without the need for you to make a written application.

In effect, this may result in a management committee’s term being longer than is described in the rules, but, given the current circumstances, we hope members will be accepting of this.

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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

A $4 billion package has been announced to provide assistance for Queensland workers, business and households to manage the impacts of COVID-19.

Information about assistance for small businesses from the Queensland and other Australian governments is also 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) they 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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