An informal survey done by the ACCC in Dubbo's central business district last week indicated that some retailers may be misrepresenting the rights of a consumer to a refund.

Under the Trade Practices Act consumers are entitled to a refund from the retailer if the goods are of unmerchantable quality, are not fit for their purpose or fail to match a description or sample.

In one shop near Macquarie Street, a sign warned:

"We exchange goods but we don't refund money."

If a consumer bought goods from this shop and later found them to be faulty, the consumer would be entitled to a refund. The seller can offer to replace or repair them but the consumer has the right to insist on a refund. Signs such as the one above, or even the balder statement "No refunds", exclude consumers from their rights to a refund and therefore are likely to constitute a breach of the Act.

If a retailer refuses to provide a refund under these circumstances, you can pursue an action under the Trade Practices Act or alternatively an action with the Consumer Claims Tribunal. A tribunal has the power to determine the matter on the evidence presented and make an order that is fair and equitable to both parties.

Retailers should note that under the Trade Practices Act, penalties for breaches of section 53 include fines up to a maximum of $200,000 for the company and $40,000 for individuals. In 1993, a Sydney fashion chain, Fashion Warehouse Pty Ltd agreed to undertake corrective advertising and pay legal costs of $8,500 following action by the Trade Practices Commission (the ACCC since November 1995). Fashion Warehouse also consented to injunctions to stop it from making statements such as:

"No Refunds" "No Refunds or Exchange on Sale Items' "No Exchange of Sale Items or Fabrics"

The Dubbo survey was done by the Tamworth office of the ACCC. It intends to do similar surveys in other cities in the region.

If you want more information on your rights as a consumer, call Martin Foreman in the ACCC's office in Tamworth on 067 612000 and ask for the ACCC brochure on refunds. It has everything you need to know about your rights as a consumer. Alternatively, the Fair Trading Act provides rights concerning refunds and you can call the NSW Department of Fair Trading in Dubbo on (068) 842611 to find out more.

The ACCC is also concerned about price fixing, misuse of monopoly power or any other anti-competitive conduct. You should contact its Tamworth office if you think you or your business are being damaged by such conduct.