Tertiary education program

Harassment and coercion

Section 50 of the ACL prohibits anyone from using physical force, undue harassment or coercion in relation to the sale of, or payment for, goods, services or land.

Harassment means persistent disturbance or torment. Undue harassment is any form of conduct calculated to intimidate, demoralise, tire out or exhaust the person targeted, for example:

  • making frequent, unnecessary and unwelcome visits or telephone calls
  • being verbally abusive
  • unnecessarily adopting a very abrupt, authoritative and demanding manner
  • commencing baseless legal proceedings designed solely to intimidate or pressure the person.

Coercion means using (or threatening to use) physical force to limit a customer's freedom of choice. It is not necessary for the conduct to be repeated – a single instance can be sufficient to breach the law. Conduct can constitute harassment or coercion even if it is not otherwise illegal or is directed at someone other than the real target (for example, at that person's spouse or children).

Case studies:

  1. A creditor entered a consumer's premises without consent and pinned him to the ground to recover goods, even though the creditor had a contractual right to recover the goods.
    See: ACCC v Davis [2003] FCA 1227
  2. A creditor used personal abuse, obscene language, or conveyed demands for payment through uninvolved family members.
    See: ACCC v McCaskey [2000] FCA 1037