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ACCC Provides Consumer Advice for the Sharing Economy

Delia Rickard
6th December, 2016

Whether you are looking for a ride home from the Christmas party, planning a summer getaway or trying to find someone to mind the dog, like many Australians you may consider using Uber, Airbnb, Pawshake or another platform in the so-called sharing economy.

When you buy from someone through a sharing economy platform you generally have the same consumer rights as when buying in a store. However, there is an exception. If you buy from a person who is undertaking a one-off or infrequent transaction, they are not required to comply with consumer protection laws as they are not acting in trade or commerce, although, of course, everyone should do the right thing.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has published some simple tips to help you get the most out of the sharing economy.

  • Know who you’re dealing with. In most cases, you will deal with both the trader providing the product or service and the platform connecting you to them. Make sure you understand the role each party plays in your experience, and that you know who to contact if any problems arise.
  • Understand and use reviews and ratings. Sharing economy platforms often display consumer reviews and ratings of their experience with a trader. Make sure you check how the review system works – is it moderated? Are any reviews removed? Are there processes to detect fake reviews? Are reviews listed in the order that they are received? How are ratings calculated?
  • Do your research. Some platforms offer lots of information to assist with your purchase – such as cost, photographs, location, reviews, ratings and amenities. Make sure you carefully read all the available information so you can make an informed decision.
  • Check you are protected. Some platforms will offer you protection if things go wrong. Make sure you understand what you’re covered for – and what you’re not. If in doubt, ask the platform. Any express protection is in addition to your consumer guarantee rights to a repair, replacement or refund depending on the circumstances.
  • Understand pricing. Some platforms may charge higher amounts during times of peak usage (such as surge pricing or seasonal price changes). There may also be penalties for cancelling any service you have ordered. Understand how the pricing works before you sign up to ensure you aren’t caught out.
  • Work out the total cost. Don’t just rely on the headline price. There may be additional fees that depend on length of use or stay, such as booking fees or cleaning fees. Make sure you understand the final total cost before committing.
  • Know your consumer rights. Remember, you have rights under the Australian Consumer Law. Platforms and traders must ensure they do not engage in misleading or deceptive conduct or make false representations. See: Misleading claims and advertising.
  • Watch out for scams. Be aware of how scams operate and how to protect yourself. Don’t arrange payment to a trader outside of the platform, as this is how scammers operate.

For more check out the ACCC’s information on the sharing economy at http://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/online-shopping/sharing-economy

Delia Rickard is Deputy Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

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