Overview of Consumer Affairs Victoria
Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) is part of the Victorian Government’s Department of Justice and Community Safety.
As Victoria’s consumer affairs regulator, CAV’s role is to:
- advise and educate businesses, landlords, consumers and tenants – including vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers – about their rights, responsibilities and changes to the law;
- enforce compliance with the legislation it administers;
- review and advise the Victorian Government on consumer legislation and industry codes;
- register and license businesses and occupations; and
- conciliate disputes between consumers and traders, and tenants and landlords.
CAV provides information and advice to businesses and consumers through its website, telephone helpline, smartphone aps, and via social media. CAV has metropolitan and regional offices (in Ballarat, Bendigo, Box Hill, Dandenong, Mildura, Morwell, Reservoir, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Warrnambool, Werribee, Wodonga and Geelong) and has a mobile service that regularly visits many other Victorian locations.
CAV is responsible for administering many Victorian Acts and regulations, including the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012, Residential Tenancies Act 1997, Estate Agents Act 1980, Conveyancers Act 2006, Owners Corporations Act 2006, Retirement Villages Act 1986, Motor Car Traders Act 1986 and Domestic Building Contracts Act 1995. CAV uses an ‘integrated compliance approach’, which means it uses a range of criminal, civil and administrative measures to address non-compliance with the laws it administers.
What can CAV do?
CAV provides information and advice
CAV’s extensive website provides a vast array of resources (information, advice, checklists, videos, tips, definitions of key terms, examples of complaint letters, and letter templates) for consumers, businesses, tenants, landlords, and residents and owners of rooming houses, retirement villages and caravan parks. You can also call CAV’s helpline to receive information and advice.
CAV can help resolve a dispute
1 CAV can help you resolve the issue yourself
If you are a consumer having a dispute with a business, first try to resolve the issue yourself by directly communicating with the business. (There is a step-by-step guide on how to do this on CAV’s website.) When you write or speak to the business, or someone with the authority to represent it (e.g. a manager), explain your concerns and suggest a resolution (see ‘Self-help for consumers’). Have any relevant information with you when you communicate with the business, so you can clearly state your rights and their obligations under the law.
Many complaints are resolved at this stage with the correct information. If, after following the step-by-step dispute resolution guide on CAV’s website, you are unable to resolve your dispute, you can request to use CAV’s conciliation service.
2 CAV’s dispute services
CAV’s primary dispute service is delivered by telephone with the aim of obtaining a timely resolution. In limited circumstances, a more tailored conciliation service may be offered. Conciliation is an informal process that helps you and the business to resolve a dispute by communicating, identifying the issues in dispute, and exploring options
There are criteria for assessing whether disputes are suitable for CAV’s dispute services. The key requirements include:
- the dispute must be within CAV’s jurisdiction;
- an attempt must have been made to resolve the dispute with the business;
- the dispute must not have been determined by, or be pending in, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) or the courts; and
- there must be a reasonable likelihood that the dispute will be settled.
For more information about the criteria for accessing CAV’s dispute services, see CAV’s compliance policy.
CAV’s conciliation service is voluntary; traders and consumers cannot be forced to participate. Also, CAV cannot make a binding determination or force a party to accept a particular outcome (only VCAT or the courts can force a business to resolve an issue).
3 If your dispute is not resolved
If your dispute cannot be resolved by conciliation, CAV can provide information and advice on what alternative remedies you can pursue, such as:
- taking the matter to VCAT;
- lodging a complaint with the relevant industry ombudsman;
- seeking legal advice.
While CAV provides extra help for consumers with a disability (see ‘Advocacy for people with a disability’, below), in most cases, it is up to the consumer to pursue alternative remedies.
VCAT has jurisdiction to determine consumer and trader disputes (ss 182, 184 ACL&FTA). For example, under the ACL&FTA (s 184(2)), VCAT can:
- refer the dispute to a mediator;
- order payment of money owed or damages;
- vary any term of a contract;
- declare that a term of a contract is void (including because it is an unfair contract term);
- order specific performance of a contract term;
- order the refund of any money paid under a contract;
- order rescission (cancellation) of a contract.
For more information about how to apply to VCAT, see ‘Small claims: VCAT’s Civil Claims List’.
Remedies: Contacting an ombudsman
Remedies: Legal advice
Free legal advice is available from community legal centres (see Chapter 2.4: Legal services that can help).
For further information on the remedies available under current laws, see Chapter 7.2: Consumer protection laws.
Intelligence (information) about bad behaviour in the market is important to CAV. It enables the agency to track emerging trends and to identify individual businesses, or problems within industry sectors, that may be causing harm to consumers.
CAV works closely with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, the National Indigenous Consumer Strategy reference group (of which it is a member), and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and individuals to help resolve consumer issues, and to develop resources for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consumers and businesses.
CAV also offers Koori Help (tel: 1800 574 457).
Advocacy for people with a disability
CAV provides free, one-to-one assistance for people with a disability who need extra help with a tenancy issue.
CAV’s advocates can:
- explain tenants’ rights and responsibilities;
- explain documents;
- negotiate with landlords and property managers;
- prepare for, and appear at, VCAT hearings.