COVID-19 coronavirus Consumer Protection FAQ

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Consumer

The Commissioner for Consumer Protection has issued some advice about your consumer rights during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, with the below frequently asked questions addressing retail, travel and tenancy issues and how they are covered by legislation. This information will be updated regularly as new guidance is available.

RETAIL

Is excessive pricing legal?

Consumer Protection is aware that some retailers have inflated the price of consumer goods such as hand sanitiser and face masks.

A business can choose the price it sets for goods or services and usually does so based on supply and demand.

Excessive pricing is not of itself a breach of consumer law. However, a breach may occur where consumers are misled about the reason for the increased price.
The Federal Government may also be able to take action if there is evidence of illegal conduct, such as collusion.

The ACCC is looking at the national pricing issue surrounding face masks during the COVID-19 outbreak and the agency can be contacted here: https://www.accc.gov.au/contact-us/contact-the-accc#for-consumers

Is the private re-sale of consumer goods legal?

Consumer Protection is aware of private sellers listing goods such as face-masks, hand sanitiser and toilet paper on classified sites, and even in garage sales, at significantly higher prices than they sell for in stores. 

Given Australian Consumer Law generally does not cover private sales, individuals are within their rights to resell these items.

Private sellers can also set prices as they choose. It is up to consumers if they choose to pay the asking-price. Consumer Protection advises consumers not to pay inflated prices.

I have a chronic condition and can’t source a face mask – what can I do?

Consumer Protection’s recommendation is to contact the Department of Health.

Two relevant fact-sheets, the second of which addresses ‘how to get a face-mask,’ can be found here:

Community advice on when & how to use a face mask

Coronavirus (COVID-19) information on the use of surgical masks

I have tickets to an upcoming concert
– can I get a refund if the event is cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns?

Event ticketholders should keep up to date with events and any possible cancellations that may occur. Promoters and venues have information regarding cancellations on their websites or consumers may receive an email or a text if the promoter has their contact details.

If you are concerned about an event that you are due to attend, you should go back to the promoter or ticketing agent to check the refund policy.

If you took out insurance when purchasing the ticket, check the policy to see what it covers. Some cover you as the purchaser if you are unable to attend an event due to circumstances beyond your control.

I want to buy tickets to an upcoming event – should I get ticket insurance?

Each insurer’s terms and conditions will vary, so you should review the policy in detail before deciding whether to purchase ticket insurance.

Some policies may offer the ability to cancel if you are unable to attend for any reason whilst some may exclude cancellation as the result of the COVID-19.

How are retail trading hours in WA affected?

Temporary extended trading hours for vulnerable consumers have been implemented at some supermarkets,  however it is best to check your local store for their opening hours.  Further details and updates are available on the retail trading hours page.  

TRAVEL

I purchased a package holiday, but the cruise component has been cancelled
– can I get a refund on the whole trip?

Where a cruise, flight or tour service has been cancelled because of travel bans, check the terms and conditions of your booking to find out your rights following a cancellation. This may include a full or partial refund, credit note or voucher.

If the provider’s cancellation policy does not address cancellations for circumstances beyond its control, you may be able to negotiate an alternative remedy with the provider.

It’s worth contacting the package provider as it might be providing refunds as a goodwill gesture and speak to your insurance provider to see if you are covered via the policy.

I purchased a flight and accommodation for a trip overseas, but the airline has cancelled the flight
– will I be compensated for the hotel costs? 

You are unlikely to get compensation for associated losses such as accommodation costs under the Australian Consumer Law from the business which cancelled a flight, cruise or tour due to travel bans.

Your ability to obtain compensation will depend on the terms and conditions of your contract with the travel supplier or rights at common law.

My cruise itinerary is no longer stopping at a destination I wanted to visit
– what are my refund rights?

Refer to the terms and conditions on your booking, as itinerary changes are usually covered in the contract.

If you decide to cancel and the cruise company offers a full or partial credit, it’s worth checking the terms and conditions to determine if this is covered, or whether it is a goodwill gesture being offered by the business.

Where the changes to the itinerary are so significant that the cruise or tour is no longer fit for the purpose for which you purchased it, then you will be entitled to a refund under the Australian Consumer Law. 

I want to cancel my overseas trip – what are my refund rights?

If there are legitimate concerns about the risk of infection, then the consumer guarantees might apply. For example:

  • you want to cancel a cruise that is still operating, but has passengers with current COVID-19 infections.

If your concerns are unfounded or unreasonable, you may not be entitled to a remedy under the consumer guarantees. For example:

  • you want to cancel a flight from Perth to Sydney.

Where passenger health/safety concerns are unfounded or unreasonable, redress (such as a refund, credit or postponement) from an airline, travel agent or cruise company will depend upon the terms and conditions associated with the booking and the provider’s terms and conditions.

Check the airline, travel agent or cruise provider cancellation policy, and read the detail of your booking terms and conditions.

Airlines will usually issue refunds if they’ve stopped flying into affected destinations. If you booked through a travel agent or third party booking site, refund requests must go through them.

Enquiries and complaints coming in to Consumer Protection are being assessed on a case-by-case basis, but individual circumstances vary greatly.

If you believe you’re entitled to a refund, call us for advice on your particular situation.

Will travel insurance cover a cancelled trip?

Travel insurance may cover cancellation if the holiday and insurance was booked before the insurer’s cut-off date for the COVID-19 exemption.

Read your travel insurance policy’s Product Disclosure Statement (this could be with your credit card provider if you paid by credit card and your particular credit card offers travel insurance) as some policies do not cover epidemics or pandemics.

“Change of mind” cancellations are not usually covered.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) can take complaints with regard to travel insurance.

I paid for a visa that I no longer need – can I get a refund?

You are not automatically entitled to a refund on a visa under the Australian Consumer Law.

This is because the fee for processing a visa is a purely governmental or regulatory function, and thus is not a business engaging in trade or commerce.

For further information, contact the embassy of the country the visa is for.

I still want to go on my overseas trip – what do I need to do?

You need to keep an eye on specific travel advice for your destination as the entry and exit requirements are changing – the Smart Traveller website provides this information for each country and contains advice for Australians in affected areas.

It’s also wise to subscribe to Smart Traveller advice, updates and news and follow the government agency on social media.

Many countries have introduced restrictions and screening measures at border crossings and transit hubs. Entry, exit and transit conditions can change at short notice. Contact the nearest embassy or consulate of the countries you are visiting before you travel.

Check your travel insurance – most standard policies won't cover you for 'Do not travel' destinations, see the Smart Traveller website for countries’ status.

Contact your airline, cruise company or travel insurer for information about your upcoming trip, and consult with your travel doctor or GP before you go.

My travel plans haven’t been affected yet, but I am concerned.
What obligations does my travel provider have in these uncertain times?

Regardless of any government travel bans, if a travel provider does not provide its service with due care or if the service is not fit for the purpose for which you purchased it, then you may be entitled to a remedy under the Australian Consumer Law.

A tour or cruise operator may not be supplying a tour or cruise with due care and skill and/or that the cruise or tour is not fit for purpose if it:

  • will be visiting areas that are subject to a travel ban or includes passengers who are suffering or at high risk of suffering a COVID-19 s infection;
  • is aware that a passenger is currently suffering a COVID-19 infection and it does not have adequate quarantine procedures.

TENANCY

How are WA landlords and tenants affected by a moratorium on evictions?

On Sunday 29 March 2020 Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that states and territories are moving to put a six month moratorium on evictions in relation to commercial and residential tenancies, as part of measures to address the financial impacts of COVID-19 coronavirus.

A moratorium on evictions for six months means landlords are not allowed to evict tenants in cases of severe financial hardship related to COVID-19, during that period of time.

When it comes to managing the social and economic issues related to COVID-19 we are all in this together and landlords and tenants will need to talk to each other and work out a way forward.

Keeping renters in their homes at this time can help to stop the spread of COVID-19 – allowing people to stay in their accommodation is for public health reasons as well as addressing the problem of tenants moving at a time when it might not be possible financially.

Even without this moratorium, tenants were not going to be evicted overnight. There is a process in place in Western Australia for tenancy evictions and this involves:

  • the issue of breach notice with a fortnight to bring rent up-to-date;
  • a termination notice if rent is still outstanding after 14 days;
  • an application to the Magistrates Court  then needs to be made within 30 days; and
  • a Magistrates Court order to evict a tenant and a hearing date cannot be earlier than 21 days after the notice of termination is issued.

If the Magistrates Court makes an order that the tenant(s) must leave, and they believe they are likely to suffer hardship as a result, the tenant can ask the Magistrate for the order to be suspended for up to 30 days.

Consumer Protection is working on amending tenancy laws to enact a moratorium on evictions in Western Australia and the details of how this applies to landlords and tenants in Western Australia will be shared via updates to this page.

Tenants should pay what they can – these changes are about allowing time for tenants to get their financial situation sorted out, so they can start paying rent again as soon as it is practical to do so.

What are the current options when tenants are having trouble paying rent?

Due to loss of employment, some tenants may experience difficulties making their rent payments.

Tenants who experience difficulty meeting their rent obligations due to the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus should inform their lessor/property manager as soon as possible. Tenants and landlords should be honest about the situation and discuss options - these could include a rent-free period, a decrease in rent or a mutual agreement to terminate the lease without penalty. Lessors and tenants who reach agreement about how to manage the situation should formalise any agreement in writing.

It is important to be aware that in the event that a mutual agreement cannot be met and either the lessor or the tenant determines to terminate the tenancy, both parties must comply with the termination processes outlined in the Residential Tenancies Act 1987.

More information about ending a tenancy may be found at:

Lessor ending a tenancy

Tenant ending a tenancy

Please note that Consumer Protection is working on amending tenancy laws to enact a six month moratorium on evictions in Western Australia.

For information about income assistance for anyone impacted by COVID-19 coronavirus, visit the Department of Treasury.

Can a landlord ask a tenant for proof they cannot pay the rent?

A moratorium on rent payments is for cases where tenants are suffering severe financial distress – so it’s OK for landlord to ask for evidence of a tenant losing their job, such as communication from an employer or other evidence of severe financial hardship.

However a tenant should NOT be asked to provide a landlord with evidence of any savings they have, for example a bank statement.

Can a tenant ask to reduce their rent payments?

Tenants should discuss their financial circumstances with their landlord at the earliest opportunity and try to come to a compromise on rent payable; this could include a reduction to the amount paid for a period of time.

Consumer Protection suggests that the situation is regularly reviewed.

Can a tenant stop paying rent?

A tenant should communicate with their landlord at the earliest opportunity if they are unable to pay the rent. In cases of severe financial distress, their discussion should involve how the tenant can stay in the home rather than considering eviction.

A landlord can ask for evidence that a tenant cannot pay the rent, such as communication from an employer that they have lost their job, however a tenant should NOT be asked to provide a landlord with evidence of any savings they have, for example a bank statement.

Where possible the tenant and landlord should come to an agreement, such as temporary freeze of rent, to be re-assessed in the near future. The landlord should enquire with their bank about the option of mortgage relief in relation to their investment property. If the landlord has lost their job too, then they may also need to speak to their bank about relief options for their own home mortgage.

What if a tenant is in arrears not relating to COVID-19?

Any breach or termination process already underway due to non-payment of rent or property damage can continue.

The Magistrates Court may amend its advice in relation to handling of eviction orders and this would be outside of Consumer Protection’s control.

Does a tenant have to repay missed rent payments to the landlord?

There is no decision yet on whether tenant debt will be written off during the COVID-19 recovery phase. How the banks handle relief in relation to investment property mortgages, such as a potential mortgage freeze for six months, will feed into this decision-making process.

Tenants and landlords can try to make mutually agreeable arrangements in the meantime.

What happens when a tenant hasn’t lost their job but wants to pay less rent?

Tenants who are employed should continue to pay their rent. It is important for both tenants and landlords to be fair and reasonable, especially because these are relationships that will continue beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

A landlord can ask for proof of severe financial distress before agreeing to any rent reduction or freeze.

Can a landlord lock a tenant out of the rental home?

A landlord locking a tenant out of a rental home is illegal. The police can be called and if social distancing rules are being breached this could result in an on-the-spot fine.

A tenant can also contact Consumer Protection who can advise the landlord of the significant penalties they can face in these circumstances.

Can a landlord sell the rental home during the pandemic?

A landlord should seek advice from a real estate agent, and public health and government advice should be followed when trying to sell homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the current climate property viewings should be done by photos and videos as much as possible. If viewings occur on site they should involve no more than two people in the premises at a time – one salesperson and one prospective buyer. Hygiene practices should be followed and this may include use of gloves, hand sanitiser and disinfecting touch points. A prospective buyer should not touch anything and, regardless, at the end of the viewing surfaces and door knobs should be wiped down by the salesperson.

In cases where a tenant is in self-isolation or quarantine, they may be asked to supply the agent with photos and videos because the agent cannot enter the property.

I'm a tenant in self-isolation, who do I need to tell and how will this affect inspections?

A tenant should advise their lessor if they are self-isolating or have contracted COVID-19, especially if the landlord plans to visit or enter the property.

They should also make sure any other tenants, housemates, flatmates or visitors are aware of the situation and what arrangements will need to be made.

I'm a tenant in self-isolation, and have found that my property needs some urgent maintenance.
What should I do?

Urgent repairs are determined as those required to meet minimum health and safety standards and/or to avoid exposing a person or property to risk of injury/damage or that would cause a tenant undue hardship or inconvenience. Tenants should advise their lessor or property manager as soon as the need for an urgent repair arises. Real estate agents should have protocols in place for dealing with these matters during the current crisis.

For more information see Urgent repairs in a rental home

I am a lessor in self-isolation, can I still do maintenance or inspect my rental property?

A lessor who needs to self-isolate during this time should not be visiting their tenants or carrying out inspections. Lessors may consider engaging an agent or property manager to act on their behalf and carry out any necessary maintenance or repairs they might ordinarily manage themselves.

For further information on things to consider when engaging a real estate agent to manage your property refer to You and your property manager.

I am at increased risk of family domestic violence as a result of the current crisis.
What are my options for ending my tenancy?

For information about how to end a tenancy visit Safe Tenancy WA

Where can I go for more advice?

For further advice and assistance contact the Consumer Protection Contact Centre on 1300 304 054 or by email to consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au.

Tenants may contact Tenancy WA on (08) 9221 0088 or for county callers 1800 621 888 and leave a message with your name, and best contact details. A member of the advice line team will retrieve your message and arrange for a staff member to return your call to arrange an appointment.

SCAMS

Where can I go for WA information on COVID-19 coronavirus scams?

Consumer Protection’s WA ScamNet website has a new page about COVID-19 related scams. The information will be updated as new scams emerge during the pandemic, so it’s a good idea to save the page to your favourites and check back regularly for updates.

CHARITIES

Where can I go for charities advice regarding COVID-19 coronavirus?

ASSOCIATIONS

Where do I find advice for incorporated associations and clubs regarding COVID-19 coronavirus?

Consumer Protection has developed a page with information regarding associations and clubs. Mark the page as a favourite to view updates.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Visit the WA Government's COVID-19 coronavirus page for up-to-date information about the COVID-19 pandemic in Western Australia.

More from Consumer Protection:

Other government agencies:

Additional COVID-19 support:

Need some assistance?

If you have had no success with the steps you have taken to resolve a problem with a business or trader, you can make a formal complaint to Consumer Protection.

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