The Federal Court has found that AGL South Australia Pty Ltd and its marketing company, CPM Australia Pty Ltd, broke the law when a salesperson attempted to negotiate an agreement despite the presence of a ‘do not knock’ sign on the consumer’s front door.
In this case, which occurred in South Australia in November 2011, the sign was affixed to the consumer’s front door and contained an image of a fist knocking with a line through it and the words “DO NOT KNOCK Unsolicited door-to-door selling not welcome here”.
The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) requires salespeople to leave immediately on request of the occupier or consumer with whom they are negotiating. The Court’s decision confirms that consumers can use a sign to request uninvited salespeople to leave their premises and do not need to meet the salesperson face-to-face to ask them to leave.
“Businesses must respect people’s wishes in their homes. If households do not want unsolicited sellers at their door, they can convey this clearly through a prominent sign on their property and the Court’s decision means that these signs cannot be ignored,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
“This is particularly important for vulnerable consumers, those from non-English speaking backgrounds or anyone who feels uncomfortable asking a person who is already on their doorstep to leave.”
Justice Middleton emphasised the purpose of the provision in his judgment and commented that “the provision is directed at unsolicited visits by salespersons to consumers in their homes and is designed to protect consumers due to the inherent vulnerability of the relationship”.
His Honour noted that in door-to-door selling “consumers do not have the option of walking away from the sales situation and may feel threatened to agree to an offer simply to put that situation to an end”.
Justice Middleton found that the sign in this case conveyed a clear and unambiguous request to leave the premises without knocking on the consumer’s door.
In May 2013, Justice Middleton ordered by consent that AGL Sales Pty Ltd and AGL South Australia Pty Ltd pay combined penalties of $1.555 million for other illegal selling practices, including making false representations to consumers. CPM was also ordered to pay $200,000 for its role in the conduct http://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/agl-ordered-to-pay-15-million-for-illegal-door-to-door-sales-practices
The ACCC will now seek additional penalties for AGL and CPM’s failure to leave the consumer’s premises when requested.
“The ACCC will not hesitate to take action to protect consumers in their homes and enforce compliance with the laws,” Ms Court said.
The ACCC’s guide for consumers Knock! Knock! Who's There? provides information about consumer rights in relation to door-to-door marketing. The ACCC has also produced a ‘Do Not Knock’ sticker to help consumers avoid unwanted door-to-door selling.
The ACCC has previously put energy retailers on notice that it is closely watching their use of door-to-door selling practices and the conduct of their salespeople.
In September 2012, the Federal Court ordered Neighbourhood Energy and its former marketing company Australian Green Credits Pty Ltd to pay total penalties of $1 million by consent for illegal door-to-door marketing practices.
In March 2013, the ACCC instituted proceedings against EnergyAustralia Pty Ltd (formerly TRUenergy Pty Ltd) and four marketing and sales companies engaged by EnergyAustralia in relation to alleged false and misleading conduct and breaches of the UCA provisions. These proceedings are continuing.
In September 2013, the ACCC instituted proceedings against Australian Power & Gas Company in relation to alleged false and misleading conduct, breaches of the UCA provisions and one instance of unconscionable conduct. These proceedings are continuing.
In September 2013, the ACCC also instituted proceedings against Origin Energy Electricity Limited, Origin Energy Retail Limited and marketing company SalesForce Australia Pty Ltd in relation to alleged unconscionable conduct, harassment and/or coercion and breaches of the unsolicited consumer agreement provisions of the ACL.