A FITNESS club that claimed the carbon price would drive up the price of its gym memberships has been fined $6600 by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Genesis Fitness Club in Berwick, Victoria, becomes the first business to be fined for making misleading claims about the impact of the controversial carbon tax, which came into effect on July 1.
The club sent a letter to more than 2000 of its members in April promoting a "rate freeze", offering its members a range of lengthy contract extensions at current or reduced membership rates.
The club told members that taking up the offer would help them avoid a 9-15% fee increase arising from the carbon tax.
It is believed more than 200 members took up the offer.
On top of the hefty fine, members who accepted the offer have been offered the opportunity to withdraw from the contract extension at no extra cost.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims said this was a good outcome who may have been misled by the health club's claims.
Mr Sims said the gym did not have a "reasonable basis" for its claim.
"We are concerned that the false claims about the carbon price may have encouraged these people to sign lengthy contract extensions they otherwise would not have," Mr Sims said. "Businesses are free to set their prices as they see fit, but must carefully consider the basis for making carbon price claims and ensure such claims are truthful and have a reasonable basis."
Genesis Fitness Club operates more than 50 health clubs across Australia, including one in Coffs Harbour and Tweed Heads.
The ACCC last week revealed the rate of carbon price complaints had slowed on average from 63 per day to 45.
From July 1-24, the ACCC received more than 1260 complaints and inquiries through its carbon price hotline (1300 303 609) and web form.
Half of those inquiries were received in the first 10 days of the carbon price's implementation.
To put the number of complaints in perspective, the ACCC received more than 900 complaints per day across all other matters during the same period.
The sectors that continue to record the most complaints are the energy, landfill, refrigerants, and building and construction sectors.
Mr Sims said a guide for businesses on their rights and obligations when making carbon price claims could be found at accc.gov.au/carbon.
The ACCC will also host an interactive online webinar for small businesses on carbon price claims on August 16. 2012.
Small businesses are invited to register via the website.
Action taken by the ACC in relation to carbon price claims:
Genesis Fitness Club Berwick: $6600 fine for claiming the carbon price would increase the cost of memberships by 9-15%.
Polaris Solar Pty Ltd and ACT Renewable Energy Pty Ltd: Informal undertakings were accepted from solar panel suppliers, Polaris Solar Pty Ltd and ACT Renewable Energy Pty Ltd, for carbon price claims in advertising leaflets regarding the impact of the carbon price on household electricity prices that the ACCC considered were likely to mislead.
Brumby's: Retail Food Group, owner of Brumby's bakery, gave court enforceable undertakings in relation to comments made by Brumby's to its franchisees in an internal newsletter suggesting that franchisees link retail price increases to the carbon price.
Equipserve: Equipserve Solutions, a refrigeration contractor, offered a court enforceable undertaking in relation to statements made in an email to its customers which attributed the entire amount of an increase in the price of a refrigerant gas to the carbon price when that was not the case.