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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:

  1. 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.
  2. The business is associated with a particular trademark, advertising or a commercial symbol owned, used, licensed, or specified by the franchisor or its associate.
  3. 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.

What is allowed in a franchise agreement

    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.

    There are laws that put some limits on what can be put in franchise agreements including:

      The Franchising Code of Conduct limits what franchisors can put into a franchise agreement, in areas including:

      The franchising code includes rules about what should be in a new vehicle dealership agreement.

      Protection from unfair contract terms

      It’s common for a franchise agreement to be a standard form small business contract, even if the franchisee can negotiate minor changes to terms. Therefore, most franchisees and master franchisees in Australia are likely to be protected by the unfair contract terms laws. These protections make it unlawful for businesses to enter into a small business or consumer contract containing unfair contract terms. Significant penalties can apply.

      Terms in a standard form small business or consumer contract are unfair if they:

      • cause a significant imbalance in the rights and obligations of the parties under the contract,
      • are not reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the party advantaged by the term, and
      • would cause detriment to the other party if applied or relied upon.

      We have a guide on unfair contract terms in franchise agreements to help with identifying unfair terms.

      Changing a franchise agreement

      Before it is signed

      A potential or existing franchisee can negotiate changes to a franchise agreement before they sign, but the franchisor doesn't have to agree.

      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.

      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.

      Franchisees should get legal advice before signing to understand what changes a franchisor can make.

      We have a free online education course for people who are thinking about buying a franchise. It explains franchising and franchise agreements in more detail.

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