Department of Commerce

Annual Report 2010-2011

Consumer Protection

Consumer Protection Division

About the division

The Consumer Protection Division provides consumers and traders with access to a fair and competitive marketplace by providing advice and assistance to the community.

Highlights

Occupational licensing boards’ reforms

The Consumer Protection Division successfully developed the Acts Amendment (Fair Trading) Bill 2010, giving effect to the State Government’s commitment to reduce the overall number of Government boards and committees. This provided for the abolition of the Land Valuers Licensing Board, the Motor Vehicle Industry Board, the Real Estate and Business Agents’ Supervisory Board and the Settlement Agents Supervisory Board. The main provisions of the Act were proclaimed to commence on 1 July 2011. The Act transfers the licensing and related functions of these Boards to the Commissioner for Consumer Protection and control of the related finances to the department’s Director General.

Fuel Watch Logo

FuelWatch internet site improvements

Improvements to the FuelWatch internet site were released in February 2011 which incorporated improved user functionality, updated technology and enhanced security.

For the first time, in 2010-11, the total number of visits to the FuelWatch internet site exceeded four million. This is an increase of over one million from the previous year. The number of subscribers to FuelWatch’s daily email service rose to over 41,000, an increase of almost 3,000 on the previous year. The usage of the FuelWatch internet site tends to increase in periods of rising fuel prices. Between November 2010 and June 2011, the average price of unleaded petrol in the metropolitan area rose by over 20 cents per litre.

Regional education and compliance sweeps

The Consumer Protection Division conducted two major education and compliance visits in regional Western Australia. In November 2010, a sweep of the Shire of Murray area was undertaken and in April 2011 another in the Wheatbelt occurred. Consumer Protection officers approached retailers, car dealers, real estate agents, local associations, charities and co-operatives to engage, educate and assist traders. The Commissioner for Consumer Protection spoke at community forums in Moora and Pinjarra, providing consumers and traders with the opportunity to obtain information and ask questions about relevant issues that affected them.

Development of State legislation

The Commercial Tenancy (Retail Shops) Agreements Amendment Bill 2011 was introduced in the Legislative Assembly to improve the tenancy rights of small businesses in Western Australia, and reflects extensive consultation with stakeholders. The Bill complements other Government legislation which seeks to create a Small Business Commissioner for Western Australia.

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2011 was also introduced in the Legislative Assembly introducing new provisions on the management of anti-social behaviour in public housing, and a range of reforms to residential tenancy, including regulation of tenancy databases, central lodgement of bonds, and standard core provisions for residential tenancy agreements.

Bitumen Bandits warning to Perth residents

The Consumer Protection Division issued a warning to Perth residents after several homeowners became victims of illegal itinerant traders known as the ‘Bitumen Bandits’. The ‘bandits’ tell residents they have material left over from another job and can seal driveways at bargain rates, but the cost is usually more than the job is worth and the work sub-standard. Being itinerant tradesmen, they are very difficult to track down if the consumer is not satisfied with their work and wants to make a warranty claim. Channel 7’s Today Tonight program tracked down these ‘bandits’ and the story ran nationally over two days, containing warnings and advice from the Consumer Protection Division.

Implementation of the Co-operatives Act 2009

The Co-operatives Act 2009 came into operation on 1 September 2010, replacing the outdated Companies (Co-operatives) Act 1943. The new legislation provides that all existing co-operatives are required to undertake a transfer process, which includes a formation meeting and the implementation of more up-to-date rules. New forms, procedures, educational materials and compliance programs have been developed by the department to assist co-operatives in completing the transfer processes and to provide for effective administration of the legislation. This included the publication and distribution of the Co-operatives: Good Business Guideand the establishment of a dedicated enquiry line.

Compliance in the motor vehicle dealing industry

The Consumer Protection Division audited the licensed motor vehicle dealing industry on the requirement to ensure sales staff are licensed and to ensure those dealers with trust accounts are meeting auditing standards. As a result the division successfully prosecuted seven dealerships for employing unlicensed staff and a further four salespersons for selling vehicles without a licence. The division also increased its focus on combating unlicensed dealing and has achieved a significant increase in successful prosecutions. A total of seven unlicensed dealers were successfully prosecuted and further three matters are currently before the courts.

Retirement villages review

The Consumer Protection Division completed the statutory review of retirement villages legislation, which was based on extensive consultation with industry, consumer and Government stakeholders over a four year period. The Statutory Review of Retirement Villages Legislation - Final Report (November 2010) was tabled in the Parliament on 18 November 2010, making more than 100 recommendations for change, chiefly to improve informational and contractual practices in the sector and thereby advance the wellbeing of retirement village residents. The review also considered the Economics and Industry Standing Committee Report - Karrinyup Lakes Lifestyle Village, Report No. 10 in the 37th Parliament (June 2008).

Real estate scam investigation

In September 2010, the Real Estate and Business Agents Supervisory Board and the Settlement Agents Supervisory Board were made aware of a scam whereby an absentee landlord had one property sold and another prepared for settlement, both in Western Australia, without his knowledge. The Commissioner for Consumer Protection reacted promptly, releasing urgent e-Bulletins to the real estate and settlement industries and a media release to the public, ensuring that industry awareness was increased and the possibility of similar scams being carried out was reduced. A working party was formed with representatives from the Consumer Protection Division, Landgate, the Boards, and the Western Australia Police’s Commercial Crime Division to assess the factors allowing the fraudulent sale of property to occur and to identify any additional measures for preventing such fraud in the future.

Customer service improvements

In order to increase the customer services offered, the Consumer Protection Division continues to establish effective partnerships with stakeholders and Government agencies including the National Measurement Institute and the Health and Disability Services Complaints Office. A number of reciprocal information sessions have been held resulting in a broader level of contact centre expertise and appropriate referrals for advice and complaints across jurisdictions.

Product safety changes

The Consumer Protection Division raised awareness of the dangers associated with pool skimmer boxes and received support from local councils which agreed to conduct compliance checks on skimmer boxes when undertaking inspections of pool and spa barriers. A new publication was developed for inspectors to leave with home owners to alert them to the associated dangers. The Consumer Protection Division also contributed to the development and amendment of product safety standards to achieve a harmonised national set of product safety standards. Ten new permanent bans were introduced in February 2011.

Royal showbag safety inspections

The Consumer Protection Division utilised new technology to ensure all toys inside showbags at the 2010 Perth Royal Show were safe for children.  Every year the Royal Agricultural Society of WA invites product safety officers to inspect showbags which will be available for sale at the event.  About a thousand toys were screened by special scanning equipment designed to detect high levels of lead and other dangerous metals.  This is additional to visual inspections to ensure toys do not have sharp edges or pose choking, strangulation or any other hazards to children.

Building Commission Division

About the division

The Building Commission Division works to ensure a fair and efficient building industry by consolidating building policy, building standards and practitioner registration.

Highlights

‘6 Star’ energy efficiency

The Building Commission Division commenced implementation of the ‘6 Star’ energy efficiency for new homes in Western Australia. From 1 May 2012, all new homes, home renovations, alterations and additions will need to comply with a ‘6 Star’ Standard that is included in the National Construction Code, which aligns Western Australia with national energy efficiency measures.

Services to the Kimberley region

The Building Commission has located a plumbing compliance officer in the Kimberley to ensure standards are met throughout the area through greater interaction with local plumbers and to a focus on Aboriginal Communities. The officer is located in the department’s Broome office. Officers of the Building Commission are also located at two other regional offices.