news The national competition regulator has taken global technology giant HP to court for allegedly breaking Australian consumer law by making misleading representations to customers regarding their warranty rights.
In a statement issued this afternoon, the regulator said it had instituted proceedings in the Federal Court in Sydney against HP’s Australian arm, for misleading or deceptive conduct. The regulator said HP had been making false or misleading representations to consumers in relation to consumers’ statutory warranty and consumer guarantee rights; and making false or misleading representations to retailers that HP was not liable to indemnify them if they provided consumers with a refund or replacement without HP’s prior authorisation.
The ACCC said that Australian consumer law provided consumers with rights to certain remedies from retailers and manufacturers, when goods failed to comply with the consumer guarantee provisions of the Australian Consumer Law, including that the goods are of acceptable quality and fit for the purpose for which they were sold. That is, if a good is not, for example, of acceptable quality, consumers may be entitled to a refund or a replacement item. “These rights cannot be excluded, restricted or modified,” the regulator wrote.
HP, the ACCC claimed, had told customers that the remedies available for a faulty HP product were limited to remedies available from HP at its sole discretion; that customers must have had a faulty HP product repaired multiple times before they were entitled to receive a replacement; that the warranty period for HP products was limited to a specified express warranty period, and that following the expiry of that express warranty period, that HP would repair its faulty products only on the condition that customers would pay for such repairs.
In addition, the regulator stated, HP had told customers they could not return or exchange HP products purchased from its online store, unless otherwise agreed to by HP at its sole discretion.
HP said in a comment responding to the issue: “HP takes seriously the matters raised by the ACCC and will fully investigate and respond appropriately.” The matter will be first addressed by the Federal Court in a scheduling conference on 7 December.
The ACCC has been active in the technology sector over the past year. In June, for example, Apple agreed to pay the regulator $2.25 million in penalties for falsely marketing its new iPad tablet as being capable of 4G mobile broadband speeds in Australia. In addition, the ACCC won a Federal Court case against local telco TPG in November last year, with the court ruling TPG’s prominent nationwide advertising campaign for $29.95 “unlimited” broadband plans was misleading because it didn’t properly disclose additional line rental costs and setup fees.
In its statement today, the ACCC pointed out that earlier this year it had embarked on a national consumer guarantees awareness raising campaign: ‘If it’s not right, use your rights. Repair, replace, refund.’ It noted it had engaged with industry to remind retailers and manufacturers of their obligations under the ACL and also has a number of ongoing investigations into other large manufacturers and retailers for alleged misrepresentations of consumer guarantee rights in breach of the ACL.
I don’t know the specific details of the ACCC’s case against HP, but it’s not hard to see a global technology giant such as HP simply applying the same terms and conditions to purchases in Australia that it does in its home country – and it’s not hard to see that those terms and conditions might not quite matched to Australian Consumer Law. However, this is just speculation – until this Federal Court case gets under way we don’t really know whether the ACCC’s case has a leg to stand on and whether HP has actually been doing anything wrong. Let us remind ourselves: The ACCC doesn’t always get everything right ;)
Image credit: HP