Consumer Affairs Victoria’s (CAV) 2021–22 year was focused on supporting the Victorian community and businesses to navigate the continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This included promoting Victoria’s social and economic recovery from the pandemic, and ensuring that as business activity regained momentum, businesses complied with their legal obligations and consumers were aware of and able to exercise their rights.
In the first half of the year, CAV supported both businesses and consumers to manage the impacts of lockdown restrictions. Businesses in regulated industries received fee waivers, refunds and deadline extensions for annual compliance requirements. While consumers were provided with information and advice on topics such as refunds for cancelled arrangements and the availability and cost of Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits. Updated contact centre technology was implemented to support the remote operation of our Information and Dispute Services Centre (IDSC) – the frontline CAV contact centre.
Throughout the year, CAV continued to deliver core services, through both new waves of the pandemic and the post-lockdown business regeneration. CAV provided thousands of licensing and registration services to Victorian businesses and community organisations and, where required, compliance and enforcement activities.
2021–22 saw significant digital improvements to the online licensing and registration systems of CAV and the Business Licensing Authority (BLA). The improvements were funded by the Victorian Government’s Regulation Reform Incentive Fund, and have made transactions quicker and easier for businesses, professionals and organisations. Key improvements include online Automatic Mutual Recognition notifications, easier trust accounting notifications and digital identification verification in partnership with Service Victoria.
CAV played an important role in the continued implementation of the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2018. We monitored the impact of the new rental laws that came into effect in March 2021 and provided information and assistance to both renters and rental providers. The IDSC fielded over 70,000 residential tenancy calls and more than 3,700 online residential tenancy enquiries over the course of 2021–22.
CAV targets its service delivery resources to support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged cohorts and address the most complex problems faced by Victorians. We funded a range of community services throughout the year to support vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers. This included the Financial Counselling Program, the Consumer Assistance and Advocacy Program, Tenancy and Retirement Housing support programs and the Domestic Building Legal Service. Furthermore, CAV continued to prioritise compliance in the rooming house sector, an industry affecting some of Victoria’s most vulnerable residents. Rooming house safety was emphasised in 2021–22, with CAV conducting over 230 rooming house inspections to ensure compliance with the prescribed minimum safety standards. As part of CAV’s digital improvements, we also made it easier for rooming house operators to meet their safety obligations, enabling them to upload gas and electrical safety checks online. In 2021–22, over 530 safety certificates have been lodged.
Enforcement actions continued to play an important role in CAV’s objective to ensure businesses comply with consumer laws. In 2021–22, we secured a number of important court outcomes and initiated several new court proceedings where breaches of the law occurred. CAV also focused on compliance with essential estate agent obligations regarding trust accounting and underquoting. We issued over 170 infringements and over 220 Official Warnings to 200 estate agents regarding breaches in these areas.
This year also saw the introduction of the Professional Engineers Registration Act 2019 on 1 July 2021. CAV led the implementation of the Act, which for the first time introduced a registration scheme and conduct requirements for professional engineers in Victoria, supporting infrastructure delivery and giving Victorians greater confidence in engineering services. In a first for Victoria, the scheme is run under a co-regulatory model, where registration is jointly administered by the BLA, CAV, the Victorian Building Authority and the engineering profession. Registration became mandatory for fire safety engineers on 1 December 2021 and will progressively become mandatory for the other four prescribed areas of engineering by 1 December 2023. Since 1 July 2021, 4,571 engineers have been registered across five areas of engineering.
Another crucial legislative reform implemented this year by the Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) and supported by CAV was the decriminalisation of sex work. Decriminalisation maximises sex workers’ safety, health, and human rights, and improves access to government, health and justice services. The Sex Work Decriminalisation Act 2022 was passed by the Victorian Parliament on 22 February 2022. In June 2022, the BLA and CAV completed the destruction of all records associated with the former exempt small owner-operator register.
Looking ahead to 2022–23, we are committed to focusing on consumer wellbeing, minimising the risk of consumer harm and supporting the confident participation of consumers and businesses in a market still impacted by the pandemic. We will also work with businesses and organisations to ensure regulatory obligations are clearly understood and that it is easier and faster to interact with us. Risk‑based decision making will be central to our compliance program and working closely with partners will be an important element of achieving these aims.
I would like to thank the former Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, the Hon Melissa Horne MP for her support over the year covered by this report. I would also like to acknowledge and thank our colleagues in funded agencies working hard every day to provide advice, support and advocacy to vulnerable Victorians. I thank as well as our partners across DJCS and other government agencies and regulators whose support and collaboration is crucial to our work. Our staff have shown ongoing resilience and dedication to achieving positive outcomes for the Victorian community this year and I’d like to recognise and thank them again for their efforts. While it remains unclear what the year ahead will bring in terms of new challenges for the community, we look forward to working with our new Minister, the Hon Danny Pearson, and the new department to continue to focus on how we can best support Victorians in facing these challenges and ensure the market operates fairly and safely for all.
Executive Director, Regulatory Services &
Director, Consumer Affairs Victoria