ACCC warning on unfair contract terms

04 October 2023

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is urging businesses to review their standard form contracts and remove or change any unfair terms before new penalties take effect.


From 9 November 2023, changes to the Australian Consumer Law will stop businesses from proposing, using, or relying on unfair contract terms in standard form contracts with consumers and small businesses.

The changes will allow courts to impose substantial penalties on businesses and individuals who include unfair terms in their standard form contracts. Currently, a Court can only declare specific terms of a contract unfair and therefore void.

Standard form contracts provide a cost-effective way for many businesses to contract with significant volumes of consumer or small business customers. However, these contracts are largely imposed on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis and are usually drafted to the advantage of the party offering them.

The changes will expand the coverage of the laws, with the threshold for small business contracts applying to small businesses with fewer than 100 staff or annual turnover of less than $10 million.

Other key changes include the removal of the contract value threshold and clarifying other aspects of the laws, such as more clearly defining ‘standard form contracts’.

ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said: “The test for whether a contract term is unfair has not changed. However, businesses now could potentially face substantial penalties for contravening the law. This will better protect consumers and small businesses who have limited bargaining power, expertise, and ability to negotiate or assess standard form contracts,”

Penalties of up to $50 million will apply for businesses and $2.5 million for individuals.

ACCC tips on reviewing contracts

  • Consider both points of view: if you think a term is necessary to protect your business’ legitimate interest, consider the term from the other party’s point of view.
  • Include counter-balancing terms: check that your contract has appropriate counter-balancing terms. For example, if you consider that your business reasonably needs the ability to unilaterally change the product or service being provided under the contract, does the contract also allow your customers to exit the contract without penalty when this occurs?
  • Avoid broad terms: don’t have terms that are as broad as possible. Make sure terms are only as broad as reasonably necessary to protect your business’ legitimate interests.
  • Meet your obligations under the Australian Consumer Law: don’t have terms that seek to avoid your business’ obligations under the Australian Consumer Law. For example, don’t include terms that seek to limit your customers’ consumer guarantees rights, or terms that seek to disclaim any representations your business may have made outside of the contract.
  • Be clear: Use clear and simple language in your contracts.
  • Be transparent: ensure key terms are clearly drawn to the attention of your customers during the sign-up process and any renewal process.

Businesses can view information about changes to the unfair contract terms laws on the ACCC’s website.

How the Victorian Chamber can help

Our expert workplace relations consultants can help you navigate contracts and other employment obligations. For assistance, please call the Victorian Chamber Workplace Relations Advice Line on 8662 5222.

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