In a recent ACCC Media Release, it was reported that the Australian consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against 11 corporations trading as SoleNet and Sure Telecom (the Harrison Companies) and their director James Harrison, alleging unconscionable conduct in the supply of telecommunications services and undue harassment, in breach of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) [the ACL is contained in Schedule 2 to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)].
It has been reported that since 2011 various Harrison Companies have been a substantial source of consumer complaints and a serious and ongoing regulatory problem for the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) and Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
During 2014, ACMA found that one Harrison Company had breached 19 separate clauses of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP Code) including making unauthorised customer transfers.
During 2015, ACMA conducted two more investigations into Harrison Companies and found further breaches of the TCP Code relating to the unauthorised transfer of customers between Harrison Companies. These findings resulted in the ACMA formally directing the Harrison Company to comply with the TCP Code.
On 10 March 2016, the ACCC filed an interlocutory application seeking a freezing order against James Harrison and the Harrison Companies from removing from Australia, or from disposing of, or otherwise dealing with, or diminishing the value of, any of their assets in Australia. Justice Moshinsky made freezing orders against James Harrison and the Harrison Companies on 11 March 2016 and on 16 March 2016. His Honour extended the freezing order to cover assets controlled by Mrs Kelly Harrison.
The ACCC alleges the Harrison Companies, controlled by Mr Harrison, have engaged in unconscionable conduct in all the circumstances by:
The ACCC also alleges Mr Harrison was involved or knowingly concerned in the contraventions.
ACCC Chairman Rod Sims was quoted as saying:
“The ACCC's case is that customers were not informed about, and did not consent to, their telecommunications contracts being transferred to other Harrison Companies, which the ACCC alleges was largely to avoid regulatory difficulties and debts. It is alleged that this conduct was then compounded by the Harrison Companies seeking to enforce early cancellation and termination fees which were not part of any contract between the consumer and that company, and harassing consumers for payment of these alleged debts. Unconscionable conduct and conduct involving ‘essential services’, such as telecommunications services are current enforcement priorities for the ACCC.”
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ACCC takes action against SoleNet, Sure Telecom and James Harrison for alleged unconscionable
conduct and undue harassment -
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