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ACCC Reports Fall In Carbon Tax Complaints

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

16 October 2012

The number of complaints made about carbon prices to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has fallen steadily since the introduction of a controversial new tax just over 100 days ago.

The ACCC has published a report detailing the pricing complaints and enquiries it has received since the implementation of the carbon pricing mechanism (CPM) on July 1. The CPM requires around 500 large carbon emitters to purchase a permit for each tonne of pollution they release into the atmosphere. A permit for the 2012-13 financial year costs AUD23 (USD23.50). A strict penalty regime accompanies the mechanism, whereby businesses found to be falsely blaming the carbon tax for price hikes are liable for fines of up to AUD1.1m.

The report relates to the first 100 days since the CPM's introduction. During that period, the ACCC received 2,500 complaints and enquiries relating to the CPM, representing 6% of the total 43,000 complaints made to the ACCC since July 1. Average daily carbon complaint figures dropped substantially from around 60 to 10-15 complaints per day. Daily numbers have been as low as four in recent weeks. The ACCC does however expect an increasing focus on retail electricity carbon price claims, as first quarter electricity bills are due soon. In addition, as the warmer months arrive, the ACCC anticipates a number of queries about air conditioning costs.

The majority of complaints and queries came from consumers and small businesses seeking information or wishing to report concerns about carbon price claims made in the marketplace. The ACCC says that a number of sectors stood out as attracting a larger number of complaints, including the refrigerants industry. The ACCC received one administrative resolution, with a further four anticipated. The ACCC also received one enforceable undertaking from air conditioning and refrigeration repair companies in relation to alleged false and misleading representations regarding the impact of the carbon levy on the price of refrigerant gas.

Overall, over 40% of complaints concerned the energy sector. The ACCC says that this is to be expected, as the most prominent effect of the carbon price has been on electricity prices. Queries about this sector again sought to confirm the price increases made by electricity retailers, but also concerned the accuracy of statements required to be placed on some bills by state legislation. The ACCC issued over 40 formal and informal warning letters to traders in various sectors and sent out over 50 letters to traders providing them with information and guidance material about carbon price claims and the role of the ACCC.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said: “We ran an extensive education campaign in the lead up to the introduction of the carbon price mechanism and have quickly pursued some early compliance outcomes. The balance between education and the quick pursuit of early enforcement has helped to show business how to do the right thing. The low complaint levels certainly show that most businesses have acted in accordance with the law during the first 100 days of the carbon price mechanism. When they have not, we have contacted them quickly and worked with them to help them comply.”

“While the impact of the carbon price may continue to raise concerns it’s still business as usual. Businesses are free to increase their prices as they see fit. However, claims made about the impact of the carbon price need to be truthful and have a reasonable basis,” Sims concluded.

TAGS: compliance | tax | small business | business | energy | law | Australia | enforcement | carbon tax | retail

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