- The franchise agreement is a legally binding contract.
- It sets out the rules of the franchising relationship that both the franchisor and franchisee have agreed to.
What a franchise agreement includes
The franchise agreement is the most important document in a franchising relationship because it usually provides the answers to questions that arise such as:
- What fees and payments does a franchisee owe?
- What is the term of the franchise agreement?
- What rights and restrictions apply to using the franchisor’s branding and other intellectual property?
- Does the franchisee have to buy certain equipment and products for the business?
- Does the franchisee have to participate in promotions and local area marketing requirements?
- What rules must franchisees follow if they want to sell their franchised business?
- How should disputes be settled?
- When can a franchisee be terminated?
- What rules a franchisee must follow when the franchise ends?
What is required to form a franchise agreement
Usually, there is a franchise agreement if all these features are present in an arrangement:
- One person (the franchisor) grants another person (the franchisee) the right to carry on a business in Australia supplying goods or services under a specific system or marketing plan. The business is substantially determined, controlled, or suggested by the franchisor or its associate.
- The business is associated with a particular trademark, advertising or a commercial symbol owned, used, licensed, or specified by the franchisor or its associate.
- The franchisee must make, or agree to make, certain types of payments to the franchisor or its associate, before starting or continuing the business.
Franchisees usually enter a franchise agreement by signing a written document, but a franchise agreement can also be oral or implied.
The franchise agreement that franchisors give to potential franchisees during disclosure should be in its final form.
Unfavourable terms in a franchise agreement
Deciding whether to sign a franchise agreement is a big decision.
Choosing to sign the agreement means franchisees agree to follow what it says. Often franchise agreements favour the franchisor because it’s usually the franchisor who has written the agreement. Generally, this is not against the law.
Franchisees can try to negotiate changes to the franchise agreement, but the franchisor does not have to agree.
The franchisor usually can’t change a franchise agreement after it has been signed, unless the franchisee agrees or unless the agreement allows for this.
If franchisees accept unfavourable terms, the franchisor can hold the franchisee to those terms.
The laws about franchising do not prevent a franchisor from offering franchise agreements that generally protect their commercial or legal interests over a franchisee’s.
The ACCC has developed a free online education course for people who are thinking about buying a franchise. It explains franchising and franchise agreements in more detail.
What is allowed in a franchise agreement
There aren’t many limits on what can be in a franchise agreement and whoever signs the agreement agrees to be bound by what it says.
There are laws that put some limits on what can be put in franchise agreements including:
- laws about contracts
- competition laws such as laws about resale price maintenance and exclusive dealing
- consumer laws such as laws about unfair contract terms which apply to small business standard form contracts.
The Franchising Code of Conduct limits what franchisors can put into a franchise agreement, in areas including:
- terms that prevent a franchisee from working elsewhere once the agreement ends (‘restraint of trade’ clauses), if the franchise agreement is not extended
- terms about who pays for legal costs and settling disputes
- the ability of franchisors to make changes to franchise agreements that apply retrospectively
- general releases of liability that favour the franchisor
- waivers of any statements the franchisor makes to franchisees, either verbally or in writing.
The franchising code includes rules about what should be in a new vehicle dealership agreement.
Changing a franchise agreement
Before it is signed
A potential or existing franchisee can negotiate changes to a franchise agreement before they sign.
During the disclosure period
A franchise agreement must be given to potential franchisees in its final form, apart from some minor changes. Minor changes during disclosure are allowed, but these are limited to:
- giving effect to a franchisee’s request
- filling in required particulars
- reflecting changes of address or other circumstances
- making a minor clarification
- correcting errors or references.
After an agreement has been signed
After an agreement has been signed, the franchisor usually can’t change a franchise agreement unless the franchisee agrees, or unless the agreement allows for this.
Franchisees should get legal advice before signing to understand what changes a franchisor can make.
One party making changes to an agreement after it has been signed is sometimes called unilateral variation. If a franchisor does this, they must include in the disclosure document:
- information about variations that have happened in the last 3 financial years
- when the franchise agreement may be unilaterally varied in the future.
Under the code, a franchisor cannot change a franchise agreement to apply to previous situations or to deal with the past, unless the franchisee agrees to this in writing.