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Consumer advocacy groups to be able to complain to ACCC

by Annie Kane12 minute read

From mid-2024, consumer and small-business advocates will be able to lodge complaints relating to “systemic consumer law issues” with the ACCC, the government has revealed.

The Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, and Treasury, Dr Andrew Leigh MP, has announced that the government will introduce a designated complaints function so that consumer and small-business advocacy groups will be able to submit a complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) if they have “strong evidence of systemic market issues under the consumer law”.

Announcing the move last week, Dr Leigh flagged that there is currently no formal mechanism through which consumer advocacy groups or small-business advocacy groups can lodge “systemic complaints” to the ACCC. Neither is there an obligation for the ACCC to respond to them.

As such, the government will be creating a designated function to enable certain groups (as nominated by the responsible minister) to lodge complaints to the ACCC from July 2024.


While groups are yet to be determined, some of the bigger consumer advocacy groups in Australia include consumer group CHOICE, while the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) represents business needs.

The Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, and Treasury commented: “As part of the Albanese government’s Better Competition election commitment, consumer and small-business advocates will be empowered to raise systemic complaints within the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) from July 2024…

“The government will release further details on this initiative in the coming months.”

Indeed, the budget 2023/24 papers revealed that the Treasury will be allocating existing resources to enable the ACCC to establish the first phase of this complaints mechanism for designated consumer and small-business advocacy groups, which it dubbed ‘super complaints’.

This will be partially offset by the “reprioritisation of existing functions within the Treasury portfolio and by reducing the frequency of Financial Regulator Assessment Authority reviews from every two years to every five years”.

How similar designations work abroad

While Australia does not yet have a means by which consumer and SME advocacy groups can lodge systemic complaints, a similar mechanism has operated in the UK for some years.

For example, the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 gives designated consumer bodies the right to make a “super-complaint” to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), where they consider that there are features of a market in the UK for financial services (such as the market structure or the conduct of firms operating within it) that are, or may be, significantly damaging the interests of consumers.

This could relate to:

  • The structure of the market concerned or any aspect of such structure
  • Any conduct (whether or not in the market concerned) of one or more than one person who supplies or acquires goods or services in the market concerned
  • Any conduct relating to the market concerned of customers of any person who supplies or acquires goods or services.

The FCA then has a duty to publish a response within 90 days (after the day on which it receives the complaint), stating how it proposes to deal with the complaint and:

  • Whether it has decided to take any action, or to take no action, in response to the complaint
  • What action it proposes to take (if any)
  • Why it is taking this action

In the UK, action could include enforcement action under competition or consumer law, voluntary changes, or investigations/consultations.

The Act enables the Treasury to designate a body only if it appears to them to represent the interests of consumers of any description. It could include organisations that represent the interests of the public generally, including in their capacity as consumers of financial services, those who represent disadvantaged groups who might have special needs as consumers of financial services, and those who represent consumers of specific products or services.

The function was brought in to “strengthen the voice of consumers” in the UK, particularly those who are “unlikely to have access individually to the kind of information necessary to judge whether markets are failing for them”.

It aims to “provide a fast-tracked route into the system to ensure that complaints about market failure which harms consumers are given consideration within a fixed time, and that the regulator is accountable for providing a response”.

[Related: Consultation opens on AFCA rules changes]

andrew leigh competition charities treasury asst minister ta airwfy


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