Advertising and selling guide

Harassment and coercion

Businesses may sometimes push consumers to agree to a purchase or encounter consumers from whom it is difficult to obtain payment. The ACL prohibits coercion, undue harassment or physical force in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services, or the payment for them.

Harassment means persistent disturbance or torment. Undue harassment is where the frequency, nature or content of unwelcome approaches is such that they are calculated to intimidate or demoralise, tire out or exhaust a person.

The provision is quite broad and may apply to:

  • a prolonged visit by a sales representative who ignores requests to leave
  • unwanted persistent telephone calls
  • debt collectors who make repeated and relentless calls to a debtor about a debt
  • use of particularly over-the-top methods of hard selling.

Coercion can occur in the course of aggressive selling. A seller may try to exploit known facts about, circumstances of, or statements made by a consumer, to force them to agree to a purchase.

Example: A debt collector makes an excessive number of telephone calls to debtors over the course of two days. The tone of the calls is threatening, abusive and aggressive. The collector gives false information to debtors and others about debt recovery procedures and the consequences of non-payment. This conduct is likely to contravene the harassment provisions of the ACL.

A business is entitled to take reasonable steps to pursue a debt. In such circumstances a debtor is entitled to be treated fairly, with respect and courtesy, and not be unduly harassed or coerced.

Related publication: Debt collection guideline for collectors and creditors — ACCC/ASIC joint guide
Legislation: Australian Consumer Law section 50