The Federal Court has found that Lifestyle Photographers Pty Ltd (trading as Expression Sessions) engaged in unconscionable conduct in breach of the Australian Consumer Law and has imposed a punishing $1.1 million fine.
Between 2012 and 2014, Expression Sessions sold photography packages, including baby and child portraits, through kiosks and pop-up stores in shopping centres around Australia. They were also operating in a similar fashion in New Zealand. We first covered this story in 2015.
The ACCC instituted proceedings against Expression Sessions in 2015, alleging Expression Sessions had used unfair tactics and undue pressure in seeking to sell photographic products, failed to provide clear and accurate information about contract terms, had unfair contract terms and targeted vulnerable consumers. Expression Sessions admitted liability and the parties made joint submissions to the Court in relation to penalty and other orders.
The Court ordered Expression Sessions to pay a penalty of $1.1 million and to offer refunds to all customers who purchased photographic products from the business between 2012 and 2014.
As a result, Expression Sessions must write to all customers who entered into a contract between 2012 and 2014 to advise them that they are entitled to receive a refund. Customers who wish to receive a refund will not need to respond to the letter.
‘In many cases, Expression Sessions’ customers were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or were financially disadvantaged. Pressuring vulnerable or disadvantaged consumers into buying products they cannot afford is clearly unacceptable,’ ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
‘Businesses have a responsibility to be upfront with consumers and clearly explain the total price of the goods and services they are offering. The ACCC will continue to prioritise consumer protection issues impacting on vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers,’ she said.
In December 2015, Lifestyle Photographers Pty Ltd sold the Expression Sessions business to a related company, Easy Payments Pty Ltd and Lifestyle then entered voluntary administration. The ACCC subsequently joined Easy Payments to the proceedings. The Federal Court made orders against both companies.
However, it may be a shallow victory for the Australian Consumer Law. It’s not clear whether Easy Payments is in a financial position to pay the fine or offer refunds to Expression Sessions customers.