Franchising code amendments - dispute resolution
The long awaited dispute resolution provisions under the Franchising Code of Conduct (the...
The Franchising Code of Conduct (the Franchising Code) is a mandatory set of rules that all Australian franchised businesses must abide by.
There are significant penalties for the failure to comply with the Franchising Code.
These penalties are likely to be doubled under the proposed amendments to the Franchising Code.
The Franchising Code provides that "each party to a franchise agreement must act towards each other with good faith, within the meaning of the unwritten law".
While the Franchising Code does not define “good faith”, it provides that when assessing whether a party has acted in good faith, a Court may consider if:
Some of the elements of good faith include:
While a party must take into account the interests of the other party, the obligation to act in good faith does not prevent a party from acting in its own legitimate commercial interests.
Consequently, a party is not required to act in the interests of the other party at the expense of its own interests.
The ACCC’s view is that conduct is prohibited where it harms the franchisee but it is not necessary for the protection of the franchisor’s interests. The Federal Court of Australia has accepted that view.
The ACCC in it’s Franchisor Compliance Manual has indicated that the following conduct may raise concerns under the obligation of good faith:
The maximum Civil Penalty under the Code for a failure to act in good faith is 300 penalty units, or $66,600.00.
Disclosure arguably forms the foundation to compliance with the Franchising Code.
A copy of the information statement relating to franchising which is published on the ACCC's website must be provided to a prospective franchisee as soon as practicable after the prospective franchisee formally applies or expresses an interest in acquiring a franchise business.
At least 14 days before a franchisee (or prospective franchisee) enters into, renews or extends a franchise agreement or pays a non-refundable deposit in relation to a franchise agreement (whichever occurs first), a franchisor must give the franchisee (or prospective franchisee):
In addition to the documents set out above, if the premises are leased to the franchisor or an associate of the franchisor and the franchisor or the franchisor's associate proposes to sublease the premises to the prospective franchisee for the purposes of a franchised business (or proposes to permit the prospective franchisee to occupy the premises without a lease), the franchisor must give to the prospective franchisee at least 14 days before the prospective franchisee enters into, renews or extends a franchise agreement or pays a non-refundable deposit in relation to a franchise agreement (whichever occurs first) a copy of:
A failure to provide a franchisee or prospective franchisee with a copy of any of these documents as required by the Franchising Code may attract a civil penalty of 300 units (or $66,600.00).
While the Franchising Code requires a franchisor to provide siginificant disclosure to a prospective franchisee before the franchise agreement is entered into, there are also matters which a franchisor must disclose to a franchisee after a franchise agreement is entered into. These matters include things such as a change in the majority ownership or control of the franchisor or certain proceedings commenced against the franchisor or judgments awarded against the franchisor.
A failure to disclose these matters to a franchisee as requied by the Franchising Code may attract a civil penalty of 300 units (or $66,600.00).
A franchisor must create a disclosure document relating to a franchise that complies with the Franchising Code.
Failure to create a disclosure document may attract a civil penalty of 300 units (or $66,600.00).
The Franchising Code provides that a disclosure document must be in the form set out in Annexure 1 to the Franchising Code.
The disclosure document includes information such as:
After a franchisor enters into a franchise agreement, the franchisor must update the disclosure document within 4 months of the end of each financial year.
A franchisor does not need to update the disclosure document after the end of the financial year if:
The civil penalty for a failure to update a disclosure document (if it is required) is 300 units (or $66,600.00).
The Franchising Code requires that a franchisor maintain a separate bank account for the marketing fund in which marketing fees and advertising fees paid by franchisees are held.
If the franchisor is operating any corporate sites, the franchisor must also contribute to the marketing fund on the same basis as its franchisees.
An annual financial statement detailing all of the marketing fund's receipts and expenses for the last financial year must be prepared within 4 months of the end of the financial year.
The marketing fund must be audited by a registered company auditor within 4 months of the end of the financial year to which it relates unless 75% of the contributing franchisees have agreed otherwise before 30 September after the relevant financial year.
A copy of the marketing fund financial statement and a copy of the audit of the marketing fund financial statement must be provided within 30 days of the preparation of the financial statement and the audit respectively.
The civil penalty for a failure to comply with the provisions of the Franchising Code relating to the preparation of marketing fund financial statements and the audit of the market fund financial statements (if required) is 300 units (or $66,600.00).
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