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Illegal Direct Debits during COVID Lockdowns

Have your direct debits continued throughout the COVID lockdowns? We have been inundated with enquiries from clients who have been charged thousands by their service providers, despite not receiving any services! These charges are illegal and you are well within your rights to request a refund.

Check the Contract

The first step is to check whether you have agreed to the charges continuing whilst the business is closed. The charges will usually be set out in a contract which you signed or agreed to. If you don’t have a copy of this document, you can request it from your service provider.

What you should look out for is:

  1. Any option for the service provider to change the delivery of their services. For example, if your contract is with a gym, they may have an option to deliver services to you at the gym or online. If they provided you with access to online classes during the lockdown, you should not request a refund regardless of whether or not you took advantage of those services;
  2. Any services to be delivered after the lockdown for ‘free’. Many service providers who are requiring customers to pay during lockdowns are adding on free services to the end of the contract period.

Is it Illegal?

If the contract doesn’t require payment or is silent on the issue, the Australian Consumer Law will then kick in. The Consumer Law makes it illegal for a service provider to accept payment if they did not intend to provide you with those services.

There cannot be an intention to provide you with services if the business is closed.

This means that your service provider has wrongly taken payment from you if they remained shut and didn’t provide you with alternative services.

What Can You Do?

If your payments were taken illegally, you should request a refund from the service provider directly.  However, if they don’t respond or refuse your request, you can:

  1. Contact your bank: for direct debits, your bank can dispute the transactions. The service provider will also be notified. However, you must act quickly as banks will generally only dispute transactions that are less than a month old;
  2. Contact your third-party provider: if your direct debits are processed through a third party, we recommend you contact them as well. They will often negotiate with your service provider and offer a refund;
  3. Send a formal letter of demand;
  4. Lodge a dispute or complaint with the service provider’s governing body or ombudsman;
  5. Issue legal proceedings in a court or tribunal.

If you need assistance recovering your fees, please contact an experienced disputes team member at Taurus Legal Management on (03) 9481 2000 or info@tauruslawyers.com.au.

Posted by Taurus Legal Management