Do not knock – a CLC win

All Australians can now choose who knocks on their door – thanks to the work of a CLC.

Sick of door knocking sales people? The answer now is simple. You can put a “do not knock” sticker on your door, and a salesperson who ignores it could be fined $10,000 – and their boss up to $50,000.The Federal Court confirmed last week, that the sticker is a “request to leave” – and a salesperson who ignores it is in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.

This outcome, which has the potential to benefit all Australians, is an example of the wide benefits of some of the work that community legal centres do – in addition to providing legal assistance to individuals.

The ‘do not knock’ campaign came about because the Consumer Action Law Centre was seeing an increasing number of people being “pushed” into contracts – mainly energy contracts – which were often unsuitable or the clients didn’t understand. While Consumer Action was concerned about the impact on disadvantaged consumers, including those who faced language difficulties, the benefits of the centre’s work have spread.

The centre developed and distributed the sticker, provided consumer information, liaised with industry and regulatory agencies, lodged door to door selling complaints to regulators, and had input to some proposals for law reform. It also established a web portal where Victorian consumers could register their desire not to be door-knocked by energy companies, which automatically registered this request with all energy providers in the state.

Other bodies, such as Legal Aid Victoria and a number of indigenous services, also participated in the campaign, which has increased consumer awareness of the risks of door to door selling – which has been targeted towards disadvantaged consumers. Other outcomes of Consumer Action’s work include the successful prosecution of two large energy companies (initiated by the ACCC), the decision of three energy companies in Victoria to cease selling door-to-door, and now the ability of all Australians to control whether or not sales people can knock on their door.

Consumer Action’s work was funded by Consumer Affairs Victoria, which supports the centre to undertake a range of policy, research and education. However, this illustrates the effectiveness of taking an innovative approach to prevent problems at their source – for example by changing industry practices and consumer behavior, enforcing laws, or reforming the law – thereby preventing problems arising for some individuals in the first place.

In the case of door-to-door selling, had Consumer Action chosen to simply help each individual to resolve their dispute with the seller, they would have helped only a tiny portion of those with problems which would be likely to be constantly increasing.

Recent coverage about the Federal Court’s decision:

ABC Online

The Australian 

Business Insider