News

News

A fair go for subcontractors – BIF Act amendments 2020

September 29th, 2020

Subcontractor late payments Queensland

Working in the building industry with or as a subcontractor?  This year has seen significant changes made to building industry payment laws that may affect you.

In July the Building Industry Fairness (Security of Payment) Act (“BIF Act”) was amended in the hope of improving the process for dealing with late and non-payment of subcontractors in Queensland.  The changes aim to:

  1. introduce new protections for monies in dispute;
  2. simplify trust account frameworks; and
  3. strengthen the regulatory oversight of trust accounts.

So, how is the new BIF Act achieving those goals?

  1. New protections for monies in dispute in business

The new legislation introduces security of payment reforms to better protect monies in dispute.  Now where an adjudicated amount is not paid within the timeframes required by the BIF Act, subcontractors may have recourse to a “payment withholding request”, issued to a party above the respondent in the contractual chain, in order to protect money that may be payable.  If that party does not withhold the adjudicated amount they could be liable for the amount owed to the subcontractor.

The updated BIF Act also enables a head contractor to lodge a statutory charge over the property where construction work occurred, if owned by a BIF respondent who does not pay an adjudicated amount in the required timeframe.

  1. Simplified trust account frameworks

Changes to the BIF Act promise to simplify trust account frameworks in a number of ways.  Prior to the amendments, head contractors were required to open three bank accounts for each eligible contract, including a retention account.  The changes reduce the number of accounts required to one single “project trust account”.  If a retention trust is required, a contractor is now able to hold all retentions across a number of projects in a single account.  The former “disputed funds account” has been abolished in favour of added protections for subcontractors.

The new project trust regime will be rolled out in stages to allow time to adjust to the changes, a plan that has been temporarily affected by COVID-19.  Provisions dealing with project trusts and retention trusts will not commence until “a day to be fixed by proclamation”, wording that provides the government with flexibility to work around the changing pandemic situation.  We do not expect to see full implementation of the project trust regime until at least 2023.

  1. Strengthened oversight of trust accounts

Though responsibility for oversight of project bank accounts previously lay with the principal, they have no oversight role in the new project trust regime.  Instead, the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (“QBCC“) will monitor the trust regime.  To this end, changes to the BIF Act increase the QBCC’s regulatory functions, including audit powers over trust accounts.  QBCC will, among other things, be empowered to “freeze” trust accounts, and request the provision of information about trust accounts in cases of noncompliance.  Retention trust accounts will be subject to regular independent audits.

To further assist QBCC in its monitoring and oversight role, legislative amendments to the QBCC Act have also been proposed to take effect on 1 October 2020.  These changes will introduce new penalties, including for provision to the QBCC of false and misleading information about a licensee’s financial situation, and for failure to provide a supporting statement that states all subcontractors have been paid when requested.

The changes to building industry payment laws, as they are implemented over the next few years, will significantly impact the conduct of disputes involving subcontractors.  If this is you, our experienced legal team is here to help, contact us on 4036 9700.

More

Commercial Landlords and Tenants: Renegotiating your lease in a pandemic

August 6th, 2020

At Miller Harris, we know that local businesses are feeling the impact of COVID-19.  The Commonwealth government previously announced a “code of conduct” to allow business tenants to negotiate rent relief with their landlords during the pandemic.   That code of conduct did not have any legal force, but after a considerable delay, the Queensland government passed regulations to put it into effect.

There are some myths going around about what rights tenants and landlords have in the pandemic.  In particular, there is no automatic right to a 50% rent discount.  Read on to find out how the system works.

If a tenant requests renegotiation of the rent or conditions under the lease, parties must enter into negotiations provided that:

  1. the tenant has an annual turnover of less than $50 million, or is not-for-profit; and
  2. the tenant is eligible for the JobKeeper scheme.

The landlord and tenant must share enough information with each other to enable them to negotiate in a fair and transparent way.  During the negotiations, both the landlord and tenant must cooperate and act reasonably and in good faith. At the end of the negotiations, the landlord is obliged to make an offer to the tenant.  If agreement cannot be reached, or a party does not negotiate, the matter can be referred to the Small Business Ombudsman.

For affected tenants:

  • Start the renegotiation process.
  • Do not simply stop paying your rent or expect your landlord to stop charging rent.
  • Get your business records in order so that you can demonstrate the impact of the COVID-19 measures on your business.

For affected landlords:

  • Do not increase the rent payable before 1 October 2020.
  • Be cautious about taking action against a tenant for failure to pay rent during this period.
  • Speak with your bank about what options are available if your tenants are unable to pay the full rent.

Finally, make sure that any agreement you reach is recording in writing and that changes to the lease are reflected in formal, enforceable documentation.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your rights and obligations you should contact our experienced commercial and property law team as soon as possible on 4092 3555, or feel free to see us in our Mareeba office at 222 Byrnes Street, Mareeba.

More

Businesses beware! Business name renewal invoice scams

May 21st, 2020

Many business owners carry on business using a registered business name.  Registered names need to be renewed from time to time.  Private company service providers now have access to the business names register information, and some offer “renewal services”.  Unfortunately, some of these service providers are sending business owners “renewal notices” which look very much like official renewal notices or invoices from the registry, and call for payment more than double the fee to renew directly with ASIC.  No doubt they hope that businesses will simply put the “renewal notice” into their payment systems without question.

You do not have to pay for renewal through these service providers.

It is cheaper and just as easy to renew through ASIC.

Renewing your business name through ASIC is cheap, easy and quick.  You can visit their website at asic.gov.au.

ASIC sends a business name renewal notice at least 30 days before your renewal is due.  We recommend that you bin all other renewal notices received from anyone other than the ASIC.

ASIC provides the option of renewing your business name for either:

  1. one year, which costs $36.00; or
  2. three years, which costs $85.00.

Other service providers charge more than double the amount required by ASIC.  Please contact us if you are uncertain whether an invoice from a service provider is legitimate or not.

Do you need a business name?

You are required to register a business name if you are trading under a name that is different from your own name or your company’s name.

It is important to have a business name which is currently registered.  Carrying on business under a name which is not your own name, and not registered as a business name, is an offence.  It is also possible that someone else might register the name which you are using, leading to confusion and disputes.

If you have any questions concerning the operation of your business, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team on 07 4036 9700.

Wishing you all the success for your business!

More

Commercial Landlords and Tenants: impacts of pandemic lockdowns

April 9th, 2020

The Commonwealth Government yesterday announced the mandatory code of conduct for commercial leasing.

The code is intended to alleviate the impact of government implemented measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

To be eligible for the code to apply, an individual, business or company must show:

  1. a 30% reduction in revenue compared to a similar time last year; and
  2. an annual turnover of less than $50 million.

Businesses eligible for the JobKeeper program are automatically eligible for the code of conduct.

The code encourages tenants and landlords to adhere to, and apply as soon as practicable, good faith leasing principles for the duration of the code, which will remain in place as long as the JobKeeper program remains in place.

Among those principles are:

  1. landlords must not terminate leases due to non-payment of rent during the period of the COVID‑19 pandemic and a reasonable subsequent recovery period;
  2. tenants must remain committed to the terms of their lease, and a failure to abide to the terms of the lease may forfeit any protection by the code;
  3. landlords must offer tenants a reduction in rent proportionate to the downturn in the tenant’s business, this is likely to be between 30% and 100% of the rent;
  4. at least half of the reduction must be a waiver of rent, with the remainder able to be a deferral, where the tenant pays it to the landlord over the remaining term of the lease (or a minimum of 24 months);
  5. landlords should also pass on where practicable the effects of any financial assistance received, including alleviation of loan repayments;
  6. landlords should where appropriate seek to waive recovery of other expenses and outgoings against tenants, and can choose to reduce services provided to the tenants;
  7. landlords must not draw on a tenant’s security for the non-payment of rent during the period of the code;
  8. the tenant should be provided with the option to extend the lease for the same period as it was non-trading; and
  9. landlords must freeze rent increases (except for those based on turnover rent) for the period of the pandemic.

If agreement cannot be reached between the landlord and the tenant as to the above arrangements (including as to the amount of any waiver), the matter must be referred to mediation.

The measures prescribed above, and others in the code, seek to ensure that businesses are able to survive and continue trading when the pandemic reaches its end.

The code has an effective date as of 3 April 2020, but will not apply in Queensland until such time as it is enacted by parliament.  There is no prescribed time for this, but it is expected to be as soon as possible.

The code will only cease to apply when the JobKeeper program no longer applies and the pandemic is deemed to be over.

While this announcement will bring welcome relief for tenants, its implications in the long run may be uncertain. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your rights and obligations under the Code, you should contact our experienced commercial and property law team as soon as possible.

 

Checklist for Commercial Tenants

  • Get your business records in order so that you can demonstrate the impact of the COVID-19 measures on your business;
  • Speak to your accountant about the financial impact, and what can be done to minimise it and allow you to recover;
  • If applicable, register for the Jobkeeper Program;
  • Consider what you are realistically going to be able to do financially over the next six months or so, and come up with a proposal regarding the lease. Make sure it is fair, and is able to be justified based on your business records.  It may be useful to involve your accountants and lawyers in this process;
  • Start negotiations with your landlord to try to find an acceptable solution for both of you to get through this difficult period. Bother parties need to be honest and negotiate in good faith.
  • Do not just stop paying rent or expect your landlord to stop charging rent and outgoings. Doing so will mean that you lose the protection the government is offering.
  • Ensure that any agreed outcome is recorded in writing, and that changes to the leases are reflected in formal, enforceable documentation. Your lawyers should be engaged to do this.

 

Checklist for Commercial Landlords

  • Be pro-active. Contact your tenants and see how they are impacted.  Starting early might make the situation more manageable rather than waiting until there are few options left.
  • Speak with your bank about what your options are if the tenants are unable to pay the full rent. Can the bank help with repayment holidays or converting to interest only, or other measures?
  • Consider your outgoings and other holding costs – are there savings or deferrals which may be available?
  • If your tenants are adversely impacted, ask them to show you some financial information to show what that impact is, and what sort or relief they may be looking for;
  • Engage in negotiations with the tenant. Remember that you will both have an obligation to negotiate honestly and in good faith, and that is it likely to be better to have a viable tenant at the end of pandemic period, than be looking for a new tenant in what is likely to still be a difficult market.
  • Ensure that any agreed outcome is recorded in writing, and that changes to the leases are reflected in formal, enforceable documentation.  Your lawyers should be engaged to do this.
More

A gift for consumers in time for Christmas

November 5th, 2019

With the holiday season quickly approaching, legislation extending the expiry period on gift cards to a minimum of three years provides a welcome gift for consumers across Australia.

The changes will come into effect on 1 November 2019, and as a result, new obligations will be imposed on businesses that supply gift cards (see below implications for businesses).

The key changes are that:

  1. the expiry date must be a minimum of three years;
  2. the expiry date must be clearly displayed on the gift card; and
  3. a majority of ‘post purchase fees’ are banned including activation and account keeping fees.

The expiry date must be displayed as a full date or as a period of time with the date of supply e.g. ‘this card expires 5 years after supply, supply date 01/11/2019” or “valid for 3 years from 11/19″.

These changes will come in force on 1 November 2019 and if the terms and conditions of a gift card purchased on that date do not comply with the new requirements, the terms and conditions will be voided and the new requirements automatically imposed by law.

Cards and vouchers sold before 1 November 2019 will continue to have the same expiry period and applicable fees as stated at the time of purchase.

The three year expiry period does not apply to a number of gift cards or vouchers that are:

  • able to be reloaded or topped up;
  • for goods or services available for a limited time (e.g. for a temporary pop up art exhibition);
  • supplied as part of a temporary marketing promotion (e.g. a voucher valid for one month supplied as a free bonus with a purchase);
  • donated free of charge for promotional purposes (e.g. a voucher supplied on the opening day of a store to be spent on that day);
  • sold for a particular good or service at a genuine discount (e.g. a $50.00 voucher for a service worth $100.00);
  • part of an employee reward scheme;
  • part of a customer loyalty program; or
  • second-hand gift cards.

Implications for businesses

To ensure that businesses comply with these new gift card laws, the Australian Consumer Law Commission recommends that businesses should:

  • update gift card terms and conditions on the cards themselves, any promotional material and websites;
  • update internal systems, training, manuals and policies;
  • place signage on gift card displays and at the counter; and
  • note the changes on the receipt issued with the purchase of a gift card.

Penalties

There are substantial fines for non-compliance of up to $6,000.00 for individuals and $30,000.00 for businesses and companies.

If you have any doubt about your compliance obligations, or whether these new laws will apply to you, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team on 07 4036 9700.

Happy holiday shopping!

More

Lost trust deeds – a forgotten saviour?

August 20th, 2019

Lost, destroyed or missing trust deeds can sometimes lead to tears, misery and heart attacks.  But is the situation as dire as it seems if a document, crucial to organising your financial affairs, disappears?

Maybe it is the advent of trusts as a useful financial planning structure, or the rise of the self‑managed super fund (“SMSF”) (read our previous article on self-managed super funds here), but in recent times, well recent for the law, there have been a number of cases which are resurrecting a seemingly forgotten principle of law, the presumption of regularity.

The presumption of regularity is that deeds and other documents will be presumed to have been validly executed and made, unless there is some contrary evidence.  The cases below illustrate the point, and highlight that the presumption is only applied in very limited circumstances, often where there is a substantial lack of evidence.

Sutherland v Woods[1]

In Sutherland v Woods there was a question as to whether a SMSF had been validly established.  The trust deed could not be located, and because there was no deed, Woods claimed that it was not a valid SMSF.

Sutherland sought to rely upon the presumption of regularity and contended that despite the absence of the deed, the fund was valid.  The subsequent conduct of the parties, including their bank and the ATO, led to the conclusion that the SMSF must have been correctly established, even if the deed was now missing.

Importantly, the parties did all they could to locate a signed copy of the original deed, contacting Westpac, the ATO and titles office to see if any of those entities held a signed copy.  These enquiries were unsuccessful, and the parties were forced to rely upon an unsigned copy of the alleged deed.

The court ultimately agreed with Sutherland, and held that although a true signed copy of the deed was unavailable, that did not prevent the inference that the trust had been validly created.

The missing deed would have been conclusive evidence that the SMSF was established correctly.  In absence of the deed, Sutherland was instead required to prove the validity of the SMSF through other means, such as subsequent dealings.

It was apparent that through the actions of the parties, and third parties, relying upon the existence of the deed, the trust had always been intended as a superannuation fund and had been validly created as such.

The absence of the missing document did not invalidate the fund, and indeed the evidence in the circumstances led to the presumption that the establishing deed must have existed at some point.

Re Thomson[2]

In Re Thomson, the deed establishing the trust was not an issue.  Instead, there were two subsequent amending deeds, one was missing and the other unsigned.

The first deed, which was missing entirely, purported to remove two of the original trustees.  The second deed, which was unsigned, referred to the first deed and amended the trust so that if both of the remaining trustees were to pass away, the trust would vest in the estate of whomever survived the longest.

The dispute arose around the validity of the two amending deeds. If they were not valid, then the two trustees who were allegedly removed would be entitled to the property of the trust.  If both were valid, then the trust would vest in the estate of Thomson.

Such matters around the validity of documents when it comes to the administration of an estate are not uncommon, and is the context in which the presumption is commonly applied.

In determining the validity of the irregular deeds, the court again looked at similar factors as in Sutherland.

In particular, the court relied on the fact that since the removal of the trustees, only the two remaining trustees had been signing off on the trust’s financial reports, indicating that the deed existed, and the parties had been acting as if it were the true state of affairs.

The court found that the two irregular deeds could be presumed to be regular because the evidence indicated that was probably the correct and true situation.  The executor was therefore entitled to include the trust property in the deceased’s estate.

So what is the presumption?

So now that we have reviewed a couple of examples of the presumption, when should you be considering relying upon it?

The presumption will only apply in limited circumstances, it should not be considered a cure-all for any trust problems you have.

The courts have held that before applying the presumption:

  1. a considerable amount of time must have passed since the event happened;
  2. there is no other way to prove the existence or validity of the missing deed;
  3. there is some other extrinsic evidence indicating the deed, or missing instrument was valid and people have since acted as if it were valid; and
  4. the presumption must only be applied to a procedural or formal detail.

Point 3 above is clearly identified in the two cases.  The evidence from the bank, the ATO, and financial reports all indicated the legitimacy of the actions being undertaken, even where the deed was not located.

The presumption should not be thought of as applying in all situations, indeed, its limited application throughout the last 50 years suggests it should only be thought of as a last resort.

In many circumstances, simply claiming the deed is lost, without exhausting all possibilities will not be enough.

Before relying on the presumption, consideration should be given to some of the following alternatives:

  1. preparing a deed of rectification;
  2. relying on the trustee powers in the Trusts Act;
  3. for a SMSF, where practicable, rolling the assets over to another SMSF which does not have any issues with documentation; and
  4. last but certainly not least, no effort should be spared in locating the original deed.

Of course, these options are not always available, some may rely on the original trustees still being available, or simply be inapplicable in the circumstances.

Lost or irregular trust documents often have circumstances unique to each case.  For that reason, when irregularities are detected, efforts should immediately be made to correct them.

In most cases involving the presumption, it is not raised until there is a crisis, for example the breakdown of a marriage or the administration of a deceased estate.  By taking proactive steps, most of these situations, and possibly expensive litigation, can be avoided.

The experienced team at Miller Harris can help you, or your clients in dealing with lost or irregular deeds.  Many situations will require a bespoke solution, and our experience across many areas of the law enable us to come up with the right solution to your problem.

Should you have any questions or enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact Ashley Jan on 07 4036 9700, or ashleyjan@millerharris.com.au.

[1] Sutherland v Woods [2011] NSWSC 13 ( http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/nsw/NSWSC/2011/13.html ).

[2] Re Thomson [2015] VSC 370. ( http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VSC/2015/370.html )

More

Online business and retail shop leasing – is it a retail shop?

March 26th, 2019

If a tenant conducts an online retail business, but uses premises predominantly for producing or storing goods, is it a retail shop?  The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (“VCAT”) recently considered this question.

The Retail Shop Leases Act in Queensland and its equivalent across other states in Australia (“Retail Shop Legislation”) imposes additional tenant protections in leases of retail shop premises.  These additional protections do not apply to premises that are not considered retail shops under the legislation.  The concept of what is a retail shop is not always a straightforward determination to make, as illustrated in the decision of VCAT in Bulk Powders Pty Ltd v Seicon Pty Ltd (Building and Property).

Bulk Powders Pty Ltd v Seicon Pty Ltd (Building and Property) [2018] VCAT 2000

Bulk Powders Pty Ltd (the tenant) leased premises in an industrial area in Victoria where it developed and produced sports nutrition and supplement products.  While the tenant sold the items it produced as a retail business, the sales were mostly online, except in limited circumstances where some customers could collect products by appointment.  The tenant sought a declaration from VCAT that the premises was a retail shop.  The reason the tenant did this was that the lease included outgoings which would not be permitted to be recovered by the landlord if the premises were a retail shop.

The Retail Shop Legislation defines retail premises as premises that are “used wholly or predominantly for the sale or hire of goods by retail or the retail provision of services”.

Upon reviewing the law on this point, VCAT considered that to be retail premises, it was necessary that the premises have a retail characteristic of being open to the public, which in this instance, it was not.  The premises were used for predominantly production and storage of products and even though those products were sold online, that did not make the premises retail premises.

With so many businesses being conducted online today, this is an important clarification for both landlords and tenants about when the Retail Shop Legislation will apply to a leasing arrangement.  The consequences of the Retail Shop Leases Act applying to a lease are significant, for example, as illustrated in this case, the inability of the landlord to recover certain types of outgoings and charges.  There are also further disclosure obligations on the landlord that, if not complied with, can give the tenant extensive rights to terminate a lease.  This decision also goes to show that what does constitute a retail shop is not always a straightforward answer and there are a number of considerations in making a determination about this.

You can access the full decision of VCAT here.

Our team at Miller Harris Lawyers has extensive experience in commercial and retail leasing in Cairns and surrounding areas.  We would be happy to assist you with all of your leasing requirements.  Please contact our office on 07 4036 9700.

More

BIF Legislation has commenced!

December 20th, 2018

A reminder that chapter 3 and chapter 4 of the Building Industry Fairness Act 2017 (“BIF”) commenced on 17 December 2018.  BIF now applies to all payment claims for construction work, regardless of the contract date.  BCIPA only applies to claims made before 17 December 2018.

Key changes:

  1. No requirement to include the words “This is a Payment Claim under the… Act”; an invoice or a ‘request for payment’ which describes the construction work and states the amount sought will be a valid payment claim.
  2. A respondent who receives a payment claim must either:
    • pay the claim in full by the due date; or
    • issue a payment schedule by the due date.
  1. A fine may be imposed for a failure to respond or pay.
  2. No ‘second chance’ to issue a payment schedule.
  3. New time limits for payment schedules and adjudication applications.

A snapshot of the important timeframes:

Payment schedule

Payment due date

The earlier of the period in the contract or 25 business days.

As provided for in the contract[1] or 25 business days.

Adjudication application 1. Payment schedule less than payment claim:  30 business days from payment schedule.
2. No payment schedule: 30 business days from the later of payment due date or payment schedule due date.

3. Failure to pay full amount scheduled: 20 business days after due date.

Particularly around the Christmas period, take care to calculate your dates correctly by checking your contract and the definitions of a business day in BIF.

For further details or assistance with giving or responding to a payment claim, or making or responding to an adjudication application, please contact our Senior Associate, Rowan Wilson on 4036 9700.

[1] Caution : A provision in a construction management trade contract or subcontract providing for payment of a progress payment later than 25 business days (QBCC Act 67U), or a provision in a commercial building contract providing for payment of a progress payment later than 15 business days (QBCC Act 67W) will be void, making the due date for payment under BIF 10 business days.

More

Self managed super funds – not just another trust

December 4th, 2018

Self managed superannuation funds (“SMSF”) have become quite popular investment vehicles in recent years.  It is, however, important to remember that they are not a “set and forget” investment, nor are they like other investments or even other trusts such as family discretionary trusts. The superannuation legislation imposes stringent restrictions on what a SMSF can and cannot do, and also requires a much higher degree of record keeping, auditing and reporting than other forms of trusts.  It is important that trustees of SMSFs keep on top of these obligations and seek professional support to ensure compliance with them.

A recent example of SMSFs trustees not paying any regard to his obligations, essentially treating the SMSFs as his own (or at least as being a financial resource for his family), and coming spectacularly undone as a result is the case of Hart v Commissioner of Taxation.  That case involved a review of a decision by the Commissioner to disqualify Mr Hart from acting as a trustee, investment manager, custodian or officer of a trustee of a superannuation entity. The Commissioner was alerted to the issues by the fund’s auditor issuing a contravention report to the Commission in relation to one aspect of the SMSFs conduct.  The list of the contraventions of the superannuation legislation which were alleged by the Commissioner, and upheld by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, were extensive and included:

  • failure to lodge annual tax returns for four years;
  • mixing super assets with personal assets;
  • transferring a property from related parties in circumstances where it was not permitted;
  • transferring the property at less than market value;
  • failing to register the property in the name of the trustee;
  • transferring the property subject to an existing mortgage;
  • making several cash payments to super fund members;
  • granting a rent free lease over the property to a related entity;
  • a dodgy investment in an overseas company, related to the tax payer;
  • providing money to allow a related entity to build a shed on the property;
  • the fund ceasing to be a SMSF because it at one stage had five members, when only four are permitted;
  • failing to ensure that the SMSF had the sole purpose of providing retirement benefits to members.

The tribunal found that the breaches were established, and the Commissioner’s decision to disqualify Mr Hart was correct.  We shudder to think what the tax implications of all this might have been, but it no doubt involved reassessments of tax payable by the fund and by the beneficiaries of it, with significant additional tax, and probably penalties payable.

The lesson to heed from this is that if you have a SMSF, do not treat it like your own money, or even like any other trust, ensure that your accountants are on top of the reporting requirements, and seek advice before you enter into any significant transactions, even if (or perhaps especially if) they are only “in house” transactions with related parties.

For more information, speak with our SMSF legal expert Nigel Hales.

More

A gift for consumers in time for Christmas

October 23rd, 2018

In a win for consumers, the Commonwealth government passed legislation on Thursday providing for greater consumer protections in relation to gift cards.  It is expected this legislation will come into force on 1 November 2019.

The new laws provide that gift cards will now be required to have a minimum expiry period of three years and also ban most ‘post-supply’ fees for gift cards and vouchers.

What is a gift card?

While many of us would expect that laws on gift cards will only impact big business, the definition used in the legislation potentially creates a much broader application.

A gift card is defined to mean ‘an article that is commonly known to be a gift card or gift voucher, whether in physical or electronic form and is redeemable for goods or services.’

While this definition is quite broad and uncertain, future clarification is expected to be provided through regulations.* In the meantime, parliament has provided the following comments in relation to interpreting gift card:

“Gift cards may be redeemable in a single store or across multiple different businesses. They are generally defined with reference to a dollar amount or as being redeemable for a specific good or service and cannot have additional value added to them after they have been supplied. Gift cards are also generally not redeemable for cash beyond a minimal amount in change.”

As these provisions have a broad application, you should consider carefully whether they apply to you or your business.  It is not necessary for a card to be purchased and given to someone else – a card used by the purchaser can still be a gift card.   It is possible that ‘gift card or voucher’ will apply to most pre-paid services such as pre‑purchased passes for entry to a venue, or provision of services such as classes at a gym.

The new laws

The most significant change is that gift cards must now have a minimum expiry period of three years.

The expiry information must be prominently displayed on the card itself.  This can be either the expiry date itself, or the supply date and a statement about the period of validity.  Even where a gift card has no expiry date, this must be displayed on the card or voucher.

The new laws additionally prohibit charging of certain fees after the card is supplied.  Again this provision is drafted broadly and currently forbids all post-supply fees except those prescribed by the regulations.

The draft regulations currently allow the following fees or charges:

  1. for making a booking;
  2. for disputing a transaction;
  3. for exchanging currencies;
  4. for replacing a stolen, lost or damaged card; and
  5. payment surcharges.

While this is only a draft list, it seems parliament only intends to allow administrative fees. Monthly fees or other fees that are deducted automatically without explicit communication of the request or demand are prohibited.

Final thoughts

Business owners will not know exactly what they need to do to prepare for these new laws until the regulations are finalised and registered, which should be prior to 1 November 2019.  However, it will be worthwhile considering how this requirement might potentially change you business and what administrative changes might be required, so that you are ready to comply once the laws come into force.  In many instances the changes required for businesses may be minor.  The new laws will apply to all gift cards issues on or after 1 November 2019.

A failure to comply with these new laws carries significant financial penalties.  In the case of a corporation it could be up to $30,000, while individuals face penalties of up to $6,000.

If you have any doubt about your compliance obligations, or whether these new laws will apply to you, please do not hesitate to contact our commercial team on 07 4036 9700.

More