The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court in Sydney against Hewlett-Packard Australia Pty Ltd (HP), a wholly owned subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard Company, for alleged contraventions of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

The ACCC alleges that HP engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct by:

  • making false or misleading representations to consumers in relation to consumers’ statutory warranty and consumer guarantee rights; and
  • making false or misleading representations to retailers that HP was not liable to indemnify them if they provided consumers with a refund or replacement without HP’s prior authorisation.

The Australian Consumer Law provides consumers with rights to certain remedies from retailers and manufacturers, when goods fail to comply with the consumer guarantee provisions of the ACL, including that the goods are of acceptable quality and fit for the purpose for which they were sold. That is, if a good is not, for example, of acceptable quality consumers may be entitled to a refund or a replacement item.  These rights cannot be excluded, restricted or modified.

The ACCC alleges that HP, contrary to these rights, represented to consumers that:

  • the remedies available for a faulty HP product were limited to remedies available from HP at its sole discretion;
  • consumers must have had a faulty HP product repaired multiple times by HP before they were entitled to receive a replacement;
  • the warranty period for HP products was limited to a specified express warranty period;
  • following the expiration of an express warranty period, HP would repair faulty HP products on the condition that consumers pay for such repairs
  • consumers could not return or exchange HP products purchased from the HP Online Store, unless otherwise agreed by HP at its sole discretion.

The court orders the ACCC is seeking include:

  • declarations;
  • injunctions;
  • civil pecuniary penalties;
  • disclosure orders;
  • adverse publicity orders;
  • non-party redress for consumers affected by HP’s conduct;
  • the implementation of a compliance program; and
  • costs.

The matter is set down for a scheduling conference on 7 December 2012.

Earlier this year the ACCC embarked on a national consumer guarantees awareness raising campaign, ‘If it’s not right, use your rights. Repair, replace, refund.’

The ACCC has engaged with industry to remind retailers and manufacturers of their obligations under the ACL and also has a number of ongoing investigations into other large manufacturers and retailers for alleged misrepresentations of consumer guarantee rights in breach of the ACL.