John Deeks: CHOICE is 60?
Jonathan Brown: Yes, we try to make sure that everything we do is scientific and lives up the 60 years of history that we have. We certainly do our best to make it all worthwhile.
JD: I just wanted to ask, before we get into what we’re going to talk about, tell us how did CHOICE come about?
JB: Well, basically people all across the community in Australia came together and said that the way we were being treated by companies, by businesses, just wasn’t good enough. One of our founders is Ruby Hutchison. She really led the charge to make sure that people buying products and services could get together and fight for their rights together and she was an amazing woman. Ruby was one of the first women to get elected to the Western Australian Parliament and also started the epilepsy foundation there. She worked hard to make sure that people knew their rights when it comes to consumer issues and started this wonderful organisation and all of the testing and journalism that we do.
Janelle Ward: We obviously have a lot to thank her for. There was a time when nobody would buy an appliance without first checking with CHOICE. But I know you’ve come a long way. You still do that but your voice has become even more pointed. Your consumer rights guide is of enormous interest to a lot of people. Can you explain your guide?
JB: Well, when it came to the initial fair trading act and more recently the Australian consumer law, we have played a huge role in making sure that we get these laws in the first place that protect us. But this consumer rights guide for 2020 that we’ve released, it’s come out of some research we’ve done recently which shows around about 54% of the population are confident in using the Australian consumer law, which is great. But it also means that about half the population – just under half – don’t feel so confident with the Australian consumer law. So we put together this publication to help those who don’t feel so confident at setting their rights and we wanted to share some of the tips and tricks and information that we here at CHOICE would normally give to our friends or family. Because when you become a choice staff member, when you start working here, you suddenly become the oracle for your friends. You get those phone calls, you get those messages.
JD: What’s the best washer I should buy?
JB: Yes. It’s a double edged sword. You know, you certainly want to help your family as much as possible, your friends and family. And it’s really lovely to be able to help them in that way. But we have written this guide because we want people to get some of that advice, take it from the ‘lofty laws’ and turn it into something that people can read and take in – in an easily digestible format.
JW: And that’s exactly what you’ve done, haven’t you Jonathan? It’s really plain English.
JB: That’s what we’ve gone for with this guide. It’s about really building up your confidence to be able to assert your rights. That’s a lot of what this publication is about. It’s about helping you feel confident in using those consumer rights.
JW: So can you talk us through?
JB: Yes. So the first one is to play the market and that can be as simple as each year get on the phone to a couple of your major service providers. That might be your home and contents insurance or your health insurance or your telco for your phone or internet – and ask them for a better price. It can be as simple as just getting on the phone and demanding a better price because unfortunately we do get what’s called the loyalty penalty where the companies that you’ve stayed with for years, they take you for granted and they just keep bumping up your fees, bumping up your prices every year. A couple of phone calls each year to your main services can save you hundreds of dollars.
JW: It has. I’ve made my husband do that recently and he’s done well, he’s got money off.
JB: Number two is to keep records and this one’s a very practical application of the law and your consumer rights. It’s always going to be easier to assert your rights if you’ve kept good records. And so one of the things we’re always told is make sure that you keep your receipts. But of course keeping track of receipts, and I know I’ve done this, you open up a drawer at home and realise you’ve got a hundred receipts in that drawer and then you’re looking around, ‘Oh there’s that fridge or that television I bought, where did I put that receipt?’
There are some amazing things you can do now that make that so much easier. The ACCC Shopper app lets you keep track of receipts but also there’s a really great photo app that can make it as simple as searching the word receipt and they will bring up all of your receipts searchable by dates, by location in some circumstances, that can make it so much easier so you don’t have to have the big drawer full of receipts anymore. You can, using lots of great digital tools, have all of that information readily available for you.
But another really important piece of advice is if you ever get the opportunity when speaking to a company, maybe you’re trying to get something repaired or something fixed, try and use those options where you can now get a transcript. You might be able to ask them for transcript over email or if they have a live chat function on their website, ask for that transcript and keep that stored because having these things on a record will help you later down the track if you need to escalate a complaint or if you need to go further, you really want to keep those records.
JD: And number three?
JB: Number three is know your rights. So if you head to consumerlaw.gov.au, you can read up the basics of the Australian consumer law. And what we’re saying is that you really should make sure that you’ve got the basics and that you play to your strengths when it comes to the consumer law. We’re saying in particular to work in the medium that you’re most comfortable in, whether it’s being on the phone, being face to face or in written format. When you’re asserting your rights, do it in the format that you’re going to feel most comfortable in.
JW: And number four Jonathan?
JB: Use your voice. We want Australians to join our movement. We want people to make sure that when the law isn’t doing its job that you let the government or you let regulators know that we need stronger protections, that we need better protection. And so a lot of that is about doing something as simple as writing to your local MP and letting them know that you think we need stronger protections on things like product safety where we can see these awful products being splattered on the store shelves that are unsafe. We still have a long way to go when it comes to making sure that the products and services we buy are safe and fair. And so we want you to be involved in that process of making change happen as well.
JD: Number five?
JB: There’s lots of sales tricks out there in the community that businesses are still trying to use. Some simple things you can do are get a ‘do not knock’ sign and that’s a legal notice you can put on your door and door to door salespeople will leave you alone. And we’re also saying join the ‘do not call’ register. Get those people off your telephone and leaving you alone by going to donotcall.gov.au and make sure that if you ever see a sign in a store that says no returns, know that’s not the case, and that you have your consumer rights with the Austalian Consumer Law.
JD: Wow. Jonathan, 60 years of choice. May you have 60 more and many more after that as well sir.
JB: Thank you very much for your support.