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How Fair Trading helped thousands of Queenslanders during COVID-19

17 July 2020

Since the escalation of COVID-19 began, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has been providing vital assistance to hundreds of thousands of Queensland consumers and businesses with advice on issues that have arisen due to the pandemic.

Between February and June, the OFT responded to more than 42,800 enquiries, including emails, calls and questions via social media, an increase of 10 per cent on the same period last year.

Fair Trading Executive Director Brian Bauer said since February, OFT has handled 1,400 consumer complaints specifically about matters impacted by COVID-19.

“Of these 90 per cent were about goods or services which had been cancelled or could no longer be provided, with the vast majority, 970, relating to travel and holiday bookings,” Mr Bauer said.

“Consumers were understandably very concerned about holidays they had booked and paid for but were no longer able to take.

“Thankfully in most cases airlines and accommodation booking providers have stepped up and assisted their customers, generally by providing refunds or credit notes.

“In terms of local travel, many consumers found themselves in the difficult situation of having paid a deposit for holiday accommodation they were unable to use because of COVID restrictions.

“After the OFT contacted the providers many have given consumers relief, often going beyond the traders’ terms and conditions. Many businesses appreciate that maintaining customer loyalty and trust will return longer term dividends.

“It has certainly been a challenging few months for all involved, including for businesses, with the operating restrictions for some industries changing many times as the situation evolved.”

During the period, the industry regulator reacted swiftly to the restrictions with more than 147,000 emails sent to Queensland businesses, industry groups, charities, associations and individuals with guidance on adjusting to the altered commercial and operating conditions.

The OFT also produced fact sheets for OFT-regulated industries specifically impacted by restrictions, so businesses knew what they could and couldn’t do during different phases of restrictions.

For instance, the OFT provided advice to security providers; property agents; tattoo; and inbound tourism operators about the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on their licences and business operational requirements.

“Given the unusual and uncertain marketplace conditions, the OFT has been providing a critical community service for Queenslanders as we made our way through uncharted territory,” Mr Bauer said.

The COVID-19 information on the Fair Trading website was viewed more than 36,700 times, with Queenslanders accessing information about issues such as travel and events, excessive price increases, supply times for products, miracle cures for coronavirus, scams, fake charities, cancellation of weddings, pre-paid funerals and frustrated contracts.

Additionally, some 65 OFT social media posts alerting the community to issues reached 45,000 Queenslanders and 11 media statements were released by the agency about marketplace issues as they arose, resulting in media interviews and printed articles reaching 3.8 million people.

“The situation is still changing, so we encourage consumers and businesses with questions about how COVID-19 restrictions impact on their marketplace rights and responsibilities to check the Fair Trading website or to call 13 QGOV (13 74 68) for advice,” Mr Bauer said.

Queenslanders who wish to be advised when fair trading advice around COVID-19 is updated can follow the OFT on Facebook and Twitter and sign up to receive newsletters.

For more information on what the OFT is doing to assist Queensland consumers and businesses, visit the OFT website at www.qld.gov.au/fairtrading.

Consumer complaints to Queensland OFT to 30 June 2020 involving a COVID-19 impact

Issue

Number of complaints

Travel & holiday bookings

970

Retail purchases

109

Services

136

Event tickets

63

Wedding bookings

38

Rental services

32

Gym memberships

16

Other

36

Total

1,400