Unfair contract terms and the Banking Royal Commission: Business Breakfast Club February Summary

WRITTEN BY Lauren Babic

This month at Business Breakfast Club, Lauren Babic of BAL Lawyers discussed unfair contract terms with a specific focus on the remedies available for small businesses and consumers, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) approach to unfair contract terms. We also had a roundtable discussion about the recent report of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

Unfair Contract Terms and Remedies Available

Terms that allow one party to unilaterally change the contract without the consent of the other party should be a warning sign that the terms may be unfair. We looked at the case of Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Servcorp Limited [2018] FCA 1044 and specifically the contracts in that case to identify any unfair terms. The clauses the Court considered unfair related to limiting the performance of the contract, no reciprocal indemnity clauses, automatic renewal clauses, and terminating the contract for convenience without giving the other party any equal rights which might balance the relationship.

Once a term is deemed to be unfair, that term becomes void and is no longer binding on the parties. The rest of the contract will continue to operate without the unfair term. A party who seeks to impose or enforce an unfair term may be held to be engaging in unconscionable conduct or misleading and deceptive conduct.

ACCC’s Approach

In 2016, the ACCC conducted a review of standard form contracts in a number of industries. Of the contracts reviewed, the most commonly occurring problems were terms that allowed the contract provider to unilaterally vary all terms, broad and unreasonable power to protect themselves against loss or damage, and an unreasonable ability to terminate the contract.

If you find an unfair term in a contract to which you are a party, the ACCC recommends that you:

  1. negotiate with the contract provider to amend the unfair term;
  2. contact the ACCC or the relevant state or territory fair trading agency;
  3. seek legal advice;
  4. seek dispute resolution assistance; or
  5. seek a ruling from a court or tribunal that the term is unfair.

For more information, please contact Lauren Babic. The next Business Breakfast Club will be held on 8 March 2019 on Undue Influence and Unconscionable Conduct: What Thorne v Kennedy means for business contracts. If you would like to attend, please contact us.

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