ACCAN Informed Consent Project (21 August 2009)
1. Executive Summary
This research project is designed to inform the development of a consumer perspective on ‘informed consent’ in the communications industry. It includes a focus on the information that should be provided to a consumer, the method of conveying such information and the point at which a consumer is taken to have become informed.
The project also addresses the issue of obtaining informed consent from specific consumer categories, including:
- People with relevant disabilities (intellectual disabilities, cognitive impairment, hearing impairment, visual impairment and communication impairment);
- Indigenous consumers;
- Young people; and
- Culturally and linguistically diverse consumers.
This research project made a number of key findings that could contribute to an improved approach to informed consent in the communications sector:
- Organisations participating in the project (including regulators, complaints schemes, community advocacy organisations and casework organisations) reported receiving a total of more than 40,000 communications sector consent complaints each year;
- Organisations participating in the project reported significant concerns regarding consent and vulnerable consumer groups, including the limited capacity of some consumers to consent to communications contracts;
- There is no central / consistent guidance available to industry on consent requirements, or best practice guidance on obtaining consent from consumers; and
- The few consent requirements that exist in laws and codes are inconsistent and do not include coverage of key issues such as capacity; and
- Current industry practice in obtaining consent is extremely diverse and often ineffective.
This research project makes several important recommendations:
- Industry and consumers would benefit from a move to setting out consistent requirements for consent in laws and codes;
- Consumers would benefit from a requirement to record consent;
- Industry and consumers would benefit from the development and distribution of best practice guidance on obtaining consent from consumers in specific consumer categories;
- Further research is required on consent issues and barriers to accessing redress mechanisms for some specific consumer categories;
- Further research is required in order to evaluate the effectiveness of potential methods to obtain informed consent; and
- It is important to recognise the limits of relying on consent and to continue to develop other consumer protection tools where appropriate.
The research project included a detailed review of literature and of policy / best practice guidance in Australia and internationally – backed by the collection of case studies and a brief survey of regulators and front-line consumer caseworkers.
- Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN)
The project was commissioned by ACCAN – the new peak body for consumers and consumer organisations on issues including telecommunications and the Internet.
The project research and writing tasks were undertaken by Galexia. Galexia is an independent consultancy specialising in law and technology.
- Advisory Committee
The research project was guided by input from an Advisory Committee consisting of experts in consumer protection and communications regulatory issues. Members included:
- Sue Salthouse, ACCAN Board (chair)
- Helen Anderson, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE)
- Loretta Kreet, Legal Aid QLD
- Jackie Thorpe, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
- Paul Harrison, Deakin University
- Gerard Goggin, UNSW, ACCAN Board