Our achievements

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Our achievements are presented under each of our outcomes, including data on our outputs and case studies highlighting our work.

A key to achieving a fair and competitive marketplace is ensuring businesses comply with consumer laws. We focus on achieving high levels of business compliance by working with relevant industry bodies and other partners. We continue to support businesses to be compliant by giving them information and resources. Under our integrated, risk-based approach to compliance, we act quickly against businesses and organisations that are causing the most harm, to protect consumers before there is significant detriment.

Helping Victorian businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic

This year we supported regulated industries to manage the impacts of COVID-19 on their ability to meet compliance obligations, such as annual reporting and payment of licensing or registration fees.

New regulations were made to allow the Registrar of the Business Licensing Authority (BLA) to refund licence fees in exceptional circumstances. This led to sex work businesses, who were required to close because of COVID-19 restrictions, being refunded more than $330,000 in annual licence fee renewals – a great result for businesses impacted by restrictions.

We also worked with the BLA to provide other fee waivers and refunds and extensions of time for annual requirements to businesses and community organisations that sought assistance. The BLA provided 144 fee waivers and refunds totalling more than $64,500, in addition to the sex work licence fee refunds. Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) gave 77 estate agents and conveyancers additional time to lodge their trust account annual audits. Extensions of time were also provided to almost 3,000 incorporated associations and co-operatives to hold annual general meetings and lodge annual statements.

Reduced reporting requirements for fundraisers

Following amendments to the Fundraising Act 1998 introduced on 31 August 2020, there are now reduced registration and reporting requirements for charities that fundraise in Victoria.

Charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission now only need to report their intention to fundraise in Victoria to be deemed registered. Fundraisers already registered with CAV also benefit from reduced reporting and renewal requirements.

Overall, 60 per cent of all fundraisers currently listed on the public register now have reduced reporting requirements.

Registration of professional engineers has commenced

The Professional Engineers Registration Act 2019 commenced on 1 July 2021, delivering a Government priority that supports infrastructure delivery in Victoria.

Implementing this Act will give Victorians greater confidence by requiring professional engineers to be formally registered for the first time. The aim is to protect consumers by ensuring only suitably qualified and experienced people provide these services.

To assist professional engineers to prepare for registration and ensure minimal disruption to business, registration is being progressively rolled-out over the next two-and-a-half years. A single, modern, tailored online registration system has been developed for an estimated 28,000 professional engineers to apply for registration and manage their new regulatory obligations.

Under a co-regulatory model, and in a first for Victoria, registration will be jointly administered by the engineering profession and government. Engineering associations administer approved assessment schemes to verify the qualifications and experience of professional engineers. The BLA, with support from CAV and advice from the Victorian Building Authority, will register professional engineers and endorse them to work in the building industry.

The commencement of the new Act removed the requirement for engineers working in the building industry to be registered under the Building Act 1993. Nearly 4,000 engineers registered under the Building Act 1993 on 30 June 2021 were automatically transferred across to the new Act, thereby becoming the first group of registered professional engineers in Victoria.

Extensive stakeholder engagement was undertaken to support implementation. This included two public consultations and ongoing engagement with the profession, relevant government agencies and the broader Victorian community. This provided us with valuable feedback to finalise guidance material, regulations and a Code of Conduct for professional engineers.

A targeted communication strategy informing professional engineers about the new laws includes website content, email newsletters and a comprehensive social media campaign using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn advertising.

For more information on these case studies, see pages 11 – 12 of the Annual Report 2020-21 (PDF, 700KB).

Enforcement actions

We took several enforcement actions in 2020–21.

Trust account audit crackdown

Trust accounts are a critical part of the consumer protection framework. They protect consumers who pay money (such as rent or purchase deposits) to real estate agents and conveyancers.

Under the law, an estate agent must deposit any client money they receive in advance into a trust account for safe keeping and can face penalties of up to $82,510 or 10 years’ imprisonment if they fail to comply. This includes sales deposits, rent or fees for advertising and maintenance. Conveyancers have similar obligations. Estate agent and conveyancer trust account audits can be lodged electronically using our online portal myCAV.

Since 1 July 2020, we have initiated criminal prosecutions against six estate agents and one agent’s representative for alleged trust account contraventions. One of the prosecutions has since finalised, resulting in a conviction and significant fine. It is envisaged that more criminal prosecutions will conclude in the financial year ending 2021–2022.

Trust account audits are an important additional protection measure that provide peace of mind to consumers handing their money over to agents. While most agents manage trust money appropriately, including by having their accounts audited annually and lodging a copy of their annual audit report, those who don’t face penalties. To crack down on overdue audits, we fined estate agents more than $120,000 this year for not having their trust accounts audited. A further 14 estate agents and conveyancers were issued official warnings regarding their trust accounting obligations.

We are mindful of the need to provide support, including extensions of time for lodgement, where COVID-19 has impacted on an estate agent or conveyancer’s ability to complete their trust account audit by the ordinary due date. In 2020–21 we provided extensions of time to many licensees in recognition of the impacts of the pandemic. However, completing and lodging an annual audit is still an essential consumer protection requirement. In 2021–22 we will continue to remind industry participants of their obligations and will take action to promote compliance and address non-compliance where appropriate.

Australian Consumer Law court outcome – Solar Vic and Sunny Srinivasan

A solar panel retailer which made misleading representations to consumers, failed to comply with legal protections for unsolicited consumer agreements and engaged in unconscionable conduct, among other breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), was fined $3 million in the Federal Court, and its director ordered to pay $450,000.

The company, Vic Solar Technologies Pty Ltd (ACN: 160 835 941) (Vic Solar) contravened the ACL in relation to 4,300 consumer contracts.

Vic Solar used marketing companies (known as lead generators) to try to get around requirements within the ACL relating to unsolicited consumer contracts, such as door-to-door sales or telemarketing agreements. The lead generators knocked on home-owners’ doors, advertised a false ‘community bulk-buy’ of solar photovoltaic systems and used the details of those who registered interest to engage in door-to-door sales.

As well as the financial penalty, Vic Solar’s Director, 31-year-old Sunny Srinivasan of Southbank, was banned from being a company director for five years.

Underquoting

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in unusual conditions in the Victorian property market which saw an increase in reports of underquoting. We responded by making unannounced visits to 29 metropolitan and regional estate agent offices to monitor their compliance with underquoting laws. We are undertaking a detailed analysis of the sales files obtained from those visits and will take further action if any wrongdoing is identified. This may include fines or court action. We will also continue to monitor the property market to identify cases or agents to visit or investigate and will report on our outcomes in future publications.

We also published information on the CAV website to help agents understand how underquoting laws apply and assist the public identify and report suspected underquoting. Our communications were developed in collaboration with the Real Estate Institute of Victoria and were sent to more than 11,000 estate agents. As part of the campaign, we also published social media posts and produced consumer focused ‘postcards’ about underquoting which were distributed during Law Week in May 2021.

For more information on actions completed or in progress as at 30 June 2021, see pages 14 – 16 of the Annual Report 2020-21 (PDF, 700KB).

Registers we administer

We administer the following registers:

  • Estate agents 
  • Motor car traders
  • Second-hand dealers and pawnbrokers
  • Conveyancers
  • Owners corporation managers
  • Sex work service providers (licensees)
  • Sex work brothel managers
  • Rooming house operators
  • Incorporated associations
  • Co-operatives
  • Patriotic funds
  • Limited partnerships
  • Retirement villages
  • Funeral service providers

For more information see pages 17 of the Annual Report 2020-21 (PDF, 700KB)

We empower Victorians to exercise their consumer rights by providing information and support. We continue to work with partner organisations to improve our services, and to target groups with specialised information needs.

Supporting consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic

We provided vital support to Victorian consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers contacted us for information and advice using a range of channels including telephone, email, written correspondence, our website and social media.

We shifted our focus to online services when our telephone services were impacted by the need for our contact centre staff to work from home. During periods of closure for some phone services, we ensured consumers could access up-to-date information on the CAV website and provided a range of updates and information via our social media channels.

During periods with limited phone resources, we prioritised services to cohorts of consumers at greatest risk of harm including Koori, Special Disability Accommodation, Product Safety, Toy and Nursery, Travelling Con Men, Residential Tenancies Bond Authority and Residential Tenancy lines. Full services across all lines resumed by mid-December 2020.

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a particularly sharp rise in contacts about travel and accommodation issues as consumers were impacted by travel restrictions. In both 2019–20 and 2020–21 we experienced a more than 60 per cent increase in these contacts when compared to numbers in 2018–19. Consumers contacted us for information and advice about refunds for cancelled travel arrangements, particularly bookings with airlines and travel agencies. As well as providing advice to callers, we updated our website and published a range of social media posts on the matter. We also worked with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and other state-based consumer agencies to develop best-practice guidance for the travel industry about travel cancellations.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have received approximately 140 contacts about hand sanitisers. We provided information and advice to consumers about issues relating to the supply, pricing, quality and formulation of hand sanitisers, as well as their refund rights. On 24 November 2020, new labelling standards were introduced for hand sanitisers, under the Consumer Goods (Cosmetics) Information Standard 2020. Under Australian Consumer Law, consumer regulators enforce compliance with these standards. The standards aim to provide more safety details to inform consumers about the products they are using, including a list of ingredients. Given the new standards and the rise of hand sanitiser products on the market, we took steps to alert consumers about potential hazards of these products by posting on social media.

Funded Community Services

CAV continued to provide a range of funded community services throughout the year to support vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers, including through the Financial Counselling Program, the Consumer Assistance and Advocacy Program and the Domestic Building Legal Service.

The Financial Counselling Program supported more than 20,000 Victorians with free and independent financial counselling sessions held by community agencies across Victoria in 2020–21.

In these sessions, trained financial counsellors provided consumers with advice about rights and responsibilities, support in negotiating with creditors and advice on how to make payment plans for debts. As a part of this program, specialist financial counselling services were offered to more than 3,100 Victorians experiencing family violence.

The Victorian Government provided additional funding for financial counselling services to support Victorians experiencing financial distress, including energy hardship and services for Victorians affected by bushfires in East Gippsland and the Northeast of the state. As part of a broader package of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Victorian Government also provided additional funding to support the development of training and awareness in mental health for financial counsellors and the improved integration between the mental health and financial counselling sectors. These additional services were delivered through the CAV Financial Counselling Program.

While a significant number of Victorians were assisted with financial counselling services this past year, the overall number of clients supported was lower compared to the previous year. This was likely as a result of COVID-19 public health restrictions which impacted client presentation to services and the consequent delivery of financial counselling sessions. The financial support provided by governments during this period such as the emergency rent relief measures and the increase in Australian Government JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments also likely reduced demand on financial counselling services.

CAV also continued to fund the Consumer Action Law Centre to run the Consumer Assistance and Advocacy Program which provided advice, casework and campaign and advocacy services to Victorian consumers throughout the year. Consumer Action Law Centre provided casework support to 287 vulnerable Victorians this year.

CAV also provided support to vulnerable and disadvantaged homeowners by funding the Domestic Building Legal Service. The service assisted 178 homeowners, with more extensive support from pro-bono lawyers provided to 15 complex cases.

For more information on these case studies, see pages 18 – 20 of the Annual Report 2020-21 (PDF, 700KB).

As the Victorian regulator of rental laws, we work to achieve fair and safe rental housing. This includes increased collaboration with partners so we can continue to improve our understanding of the needs of a modern market and make positive changes across the sector.

Emergency measures for tenancy disputes

The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 introduced on 25 April 2020 created several emergency rental measures designed to keep people safe and in a home during the COVID-19 pandemic. These included a moratorium on evictions, suspension of rent increases and establishment of a dispute resolution process for residential tenancies rent reductions. These measures were extended during the year and ran until 28 March 2021 alongside the availability of rent relief grants and land tax relief for eligible renters and landlords.

We partnered with the DSCV to deliver the Residential Tenancies Dispute Resolution Scheme. The scheme established a single point of entry for residential tenancy disputes related to COVID-19. We provided information, advice and dispute resolution services to renters and rental providers to help them reach an agreement about rent reductions and registered reduced rent agreements. Parties could not take a rental dispute to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) without first accessing the scheme.

The emergency measures ended on 28 March 2021 and were followed by the introduction of new renting laws on 29 March 2021 to ensure there was no gap in protection for renters and rental providers

Over 11 months, we had more than 200,000 contacts for assistance and almost 700,000 views of our web content. Further achievements are provided on the following page.

Residential Tenancies Dispute Resolution Scheme – key achievements

 

Icon representing total contacts received by CAV. 

222,737

total contacts


Icon representing online disputes lodged.

31,692

online disputes lodged

Icon representing reduced rent agreements lodged.

72,964

reduced rental agreements lodged

Icon representing average rent decrease.

23%

average rent decrease

Icon representing web page views of professional engineers registration scheme content.

685,460

webpage views of scheme content

Icon representing matters closed by CAV's contact centre.

94%

of matters closed by our contact centre

Icon representing matters closed through frontline resolution.

20,332

matters closed through frontline resolution

Icon representing referrals to VCAT.

29,441

referrals to VCAT

Icon representing matters closed by the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (DSCV).

5,853

matters closed through the DSCV

175

binding orders by the Chief Dispute Resolution Officer

 

New rental laws

On 29 March 2021, more than 130 rental reforms were introduced under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (the RTA).

The reforms clarify the rights and responsibilities of renters and rental providers – from before a rental agreement is signed until after the agreement ends – and apply to all types of residential tenancies. This includes private rentals, caravan and residential parks and rooming houses. This year we delivered an extensive program of work to support a smooth transition to the new laws.

To raise awareness and understanding, we delivered a comprehensive education and stakeholder campaign and communication strategy. Our advertising campaign included print, radio, digital and social media, while a comprehensive public relations strategy delivered information and resources to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians. This included older Victorians, those on low or fixed incomes, family violence survivors, and people with disabilities. The renting content on our website was refreshed to provide updated, clear and accessible renting information and an enhanced user experience. Information was also published via our social media channels.

We funded work to raise community awareness of the rental reforms, including translated information resources for CALD communities. A total of $400,000 was allocated to agencies to provide training and support for tenancy and community sector workers and financial counsellors, helping to build their capacity to support vulnerable renters. Agencies that received funds included Tenants Victoria, Financial Counselling Victoria, the Victorian Council of Social Service and the Registered Accommodation Association of Victoria.

Two new initiatives to protect renters, a rental non-compliance register and rent special account, were developed as a collaborative effort between CAV and VCAT. The public rental non-compliance register displays information about non-compliance by rental providers and their agents. The register is hosted on the CAV website and will help renters make informed decisions when considering rental providers.

The rent special account holds rent money in trust until repairs are made by a rental provider, protecting the health and safety of renters. The Residential Tenancies Bond Authority (RTBA) online system was also enhanced to support electronic bond transactions, which were introduced under the new laws. Modification bonds can now be lodged and renters can also apply directly to the RTBA to lodge bond claims.

We also developed guidelines issued by the Director of CAV that VCAT must consider when determining particular applications made under the RTA. The guidelines summarise relevant case law to help interpret the RTA and provide practical guidance for renters and rental providers about how to comply with renting laws. The guidelines support dispute resolution between renters and rental providers and greater consistency in VCAT decision making. They also cover common areas of dispute including maintenance, cleanliness, damage and fair wear and tear, urgent repairs and interpreting the term ‘endanger’.

We will continue to monitor the rental market to ensure compliance with laws and to identify new and emerging issues the new laws may present.

Protecting residents of rooming houses

COVID-19 public health restrictions during the year had a significant impact on our ability to undertake in-person inspections during the past year. However, as restrictions eased from late 2020, we increased our inspection activity substantially, focusing on high priorities such as rooming house accommodation, which is often used by more vulnerable or disadvantaged members of the community.

This year we collaborated on a project with the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, local health services, community health providers and local councils. The focus of this work was to encourage COVIDSafe environments in rooming houses. Regulators worked together to identify and inspect high‑risk rooming houses.

A welcome observation was the strong attempts by rooming house operators to limit the spread of COVID-19. Some operators had proactively placed signs throughout properties instructing residents on how to maintain good hygiene to reduce spread of the virus. Some had developed procedures to manage guests by setting up registers. Remaining operators took action to make the rooming house COVIDSafe.

Under this collaborative project, we took the opportunity to examine compliance with minimum safety standards under the RTA. We completed 110 inspections of rooming houses. Non-compliance was addressed by issuing two infringements totalling $6,608 and 15 official warnings. Remediation checks were also undertaken to ensure compliance was met.

In March 2021, we conducted another risk assessment of registered rooming houses to identify licensed operators with significant market share and/or the highest risk of non-compliance. A total of 60 inspections of rooming houses run by those operators followed. Our compliance checks focused on six key safety standards designed to control potential fire hazards. Our initial regulatory response was to issue official warnings for each breach and ask for proof of remediation. Our focus was not simply to penalise non-compliance but to secure safe living conditions for residents. We have begun reinspecting these rooming houses to confirm all breaches have been remedied and will take escalated enforcement action for ongoing non-compliance.

We also protected rooming house residents from living in properties run by operators who were not ‘fit and proper persons’ as set out in the Rooming House Operators Act 2016.

In the first half of 2020, the BLA refused five rooming house operators licence renewals due to disqualifying offences. Upon receipt of this intelligence, CAV sought to reduce the risk of other disqualified persons operating in the sector by messaging all licensees to remind them of disqualifying criteria. In response, a further licensee voluntarily advised of a disqualifying offence. Those operators no longer hold a licence in Victoria.

Tenancy Programs

Tenancy Programs are comprised of the Tenancy Assistance and Advocacy Program (TAAP), the Tenancy Central Program and the Retirement Housing Assistance and Advocacy Program. During 2020–21 these programs provided much needed support to vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, all Tenancy Programs continue to be funded through 2021–22.

The TAAP continued to provide much needed support to disadvantaged renters in what has been a challenging year. The program was particularly important for many renters who faced greater difficulty paying the rent after losing jobs or work hours. Through this program 6,644 Victorians were able to receive valuable help negotiating rent reduction agreements, understanding their rights under the temporary eviction moratorium, and resolving disputes with rental providers. Additionally, the Retirement Housing Assistance and Advocacy Program was able to assist 373 vulnerable elderly Victorians maintain their tenancy.

Victorian Property Fund in 2020–21

The Estate Agents Act 1980 allows the Minister for Consumer Affairs to make grants from the Victorian Property Fund (VPF) for certain purposes. The Minister makes her decision on grants after consultation with us, the Estate Agents Council and any industry associations, government departments and other organisations, as appropriate.

We administer the VPF grants program. This includes evaluating applications, making recommendations about proposals to the Minister, and administering the grants.

In 2020–21, more than $7.7 million was spent on existing grants to community organisations to deliver estate agent professional development training, social housing development and environmental housing development projects. The table below details this year’s grant expenditure by purpose and recipients. No new grants were awarded from the VPF in 2020–21.

For more information on these case studies, see pages 21 – 26 of the Annual Report 2020-21 (PDF, 700KB).