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About fair trading enforcement and processes

Our compliance policies and procedures set out how we enforce the law. These help us to assess, inquire into, analyse and address complaints from consumers and business and/or suspected breaches of the laws we administer.

Our compliance and enforcement actions:

  • encourage businesses to follow the law
  • most effectively protect the rights of consumers and businesses
  • build community confidence in a fair and safe marketplace.

We use a range of activities and powers to promote and enforce the law. These include:

  • educating businesses and consumers about the law
  • working with industry groups to promote good practices
  • taking court action for serious or repeated breaches of the laws we administer
  • finding other solutions for less serious matters.

Our range of enforcement options and remedies include:

  • official warnings
  • infringement notices (fines)
  • civil penalty notices
  • enforceable undertakings
  • industry licence penalties (suspending or cancelling a licence)
  • public warnings or naming
  • court orders and injunctions
  • court or tribunal action (prosecution).

In deciding on an enforcement action, we will always:

  • base our decision on the type of breach, circumstances and public interest
  • always consider every option, including court or tribunal action
  • make sure we have admissible, substantial and reliable evidence
  • use public resources efficiently
  • make sure the severity of enforcement action we take matches the severity of the breach
  • not proceed without a reasonable prospect of success
  • be accountable and transparent in all our actions and decisions.

Office of Fair Trading compliance and enforcement policy and standards (PDF, 991KB)

Penalties we impose

We can take the following enforcement actions without needing to apply for a court order.

Official warnings and infringement notices

We will give an official warning if a business:

  • has committed a minor or technical breach
  • doesn’t seem to have intended to breach a law or act dishonestly
  • cooperates with our investigation
  • takes rapid action to minimise the risk of a repeated breach.

We may issue an infringement notice or a civil penalty fine for some types of breach.

These will be for matters that:

  • are less serious types of breach
  • are isolated incidents for the business
  • won’t need a detailed or complex investigation
  • don’t have many defences available to the business
  • are relatively common in the marketplace.

Enforceable undertakings

An enforceable undertaking is a legally binding agreement that a business will stop doing certain activities. We can take the matter to court if the business does not obey the undertaking.

We use these undertakings instead of court action if:

  • we have never carried out enforcement action against a business for similar conduct
  • the business is unlikely to reoffend.

We may publicise an undertaking in the media.

If they do reoffend, the court can order the business to pay:

  • compensation
  • a security bond.

We keep public registers of all enforceable undertakings we have entered into with businesses.

Public warnings and naming

Public warnings and naming are serious actions. We will only do them in limited situations.

Before we take either action, we must have:

  • clear evidence of a business engaging in deliberate and widespread misconduct
  • a strong reason to warn the public about the business or their conduct.

We keep a list of businesses we have named.

Court orders

We can apply to a court to carry out the following enforcement actions. They will decide whether to issue an order based on the strength of our application.

Injunctions

If the court issues an injunction against an activity, the business must not continue to carry it out.

We will apply for an injunction if the alleged conduct is:

  • serious and ongoing or has the potential to recommence
  • likely to cause wide spread or significant detriment
  • still ongoing despite any previous enforcement action from us.

Compensation or redress orders

These types of orders require the business to carry out any of a range of actions as a remedy for their conduct.

The court may order the business to:

  • return money or property
  • pay a restitution
  • perform a service
  • repair or replace a product.

These could go to:

  • the business’s customers
  • anyone else who is negatively impacted.

The court can also void, vary or refuse to enforce the terms of a contract.

Adverse publicity orders

An adverse publicity order would require the business to:

  • disclose to specific people (such as their customers) about the nature of their breaches
  • publish an advertisement (at their own expense) to warn the general public.

The court will set out the content and audience of the disclosure.

Fines

A court can order a fine (‘pecuniary penalty’) to:

  • punish an activity
  • deter the business from reoffending.

These are similar to civil fines. Non-payment may result in seizure of assets, sale actions or bankruptcy proceedings. This is unlike a criminal fine, which may lead to imprisonment if unpaid.

Disqualification

A court can disqualify a person from managing a corporation. They can issue the order for as long as they consider appropriate.

We pass on all disqualification orders to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). ASIC keeps a register of disqualified people.

ASIC banned and disqualified register

Prosecution or tribunal action

We can prosecute or launch tribunal action if:

  • the alleged breach is in the most serious categories of offending
  • a business repeatedly reoffends or breaks an enforceable undertaking
  • the business elects to take the matter to court
  • it would be in the public interest.

Breaches of our laws generally lead to prosecution in a court, rather than action in a tribunal.

Tribunal action in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal usually relates to breaches in industries we regulate.

Compliance and enforcement guide

We have published a series of guides to help businesses understand key parts of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

The ACL compliance and enforcement guide sets out how we enforce the law. You can access your free copy by following the links below.

Download the guide (PDF, 1.69MB)

Order a hard copy

Do it online

You can respond to an infringement notice issued by the Office of Fair Trading or the Queensland Police Service on behalf of the Office of Fair Trading online.

Start now

Last updated
9 July 2018
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