The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has adjusted the focus of its regulatory activities, accordingly, given the impact of COVID-19 on most businesses, particularly small businesses, who face an uncertain future.
The ACCC believes maintaining competition in the long term is critical to benefit both consumers and the economy, and as such, wants to ensure any changes to the competitive landscape are temporary and that it is ready to play its role in supporting competition as the economy recovers.
2020 Compliance and Enforcement Priorities remain in place but the ACCC will re-focus its efforts to priorities of most relevance to competition and consumer issues arising from the impact of COVID-19.
The ACCC has also established an internal COVID-19 Taskforce to communicate directly with businesses to educate them about their obligations in relation to cancellations, refunds and suspension of services as a result of COVID-19.
Advice for businesses and consumers relating to consumer guarantees is available on the ACCC website which will be updated with advice as new issues emerge and in response to consumer enquiries via the website, infocentre and social media.
The ACCC will continue to raise awareness of COVID-19 scams, particularly as scammers prey on new fears at a time when large parts of the community are already feeling vulnerable.
The ACCC acknowledges that price gouging for essential products is a significant public concern and will prioritise its activities in relation to this conduct. While price gouging is not illegal, if a business makes misleading claims about the reason for price increases, it will be breaching the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) and extreme price gouging may amount to unconscionable conduct.
The ACCC is actively engaging with governments and businesses about potential authorisations that support coordination between competitors that is ordinarily prohibited but necessary and in the public interest – for example, a coordinated approach for supermarkets to ensure grocery supply.
Proposed mergers will continue to be considered by the ACCC but timelines for some reviews and applications may need to be extended due to COVID-19.
The Consumer Data Right (CDR) will continue to progress in consultation with the Department of Treasury and industry, and the ACCC is looking at ways of providing flexibility for participants.
Product safety responsibilities will continue to be prioritised to keep Australian consumers safe.