Airtasker, essentially Uber for all your unwanted tasks and chores. During my time living in Sydney friends assured me Airtasker was brilliant

However, even companies with great business plans need to be careful when promoting themselves. Sometimes you can get a lot of press, but for the wrong reasons, become infamous rather than famous in the process.

This is the dilemma facing Airtasker now. Airtasker says it is completely transparent and upfront about its business model and fees. However, Choice magazine (the AU equivalent of Consumer to New Zealanders) has challenged some of the promotional statements made by Airtasker when trying to sign up 'taskers' i.e. workers / tradespeople.

Airtasker claimed that some of its taskers make up to $20,000 a month. Upon hearing this Choice scoffed into its cornflakes and asked the ACCC to investigate if Airtasker didn't substantiate those claims.

The problem for businesses, and Airtasker, is that even if statements are true, sometimes the truth isn’t enough. In addition to their misleading and deceptive conduct provisions, the Australian Consumer Law and New Zealand's Fair Trading Act prohibit traders from making unsubstantiated representations, i.e. any claim where the person making it doesn't, when the representation is made, have reasonable grounds for making that claim. This is irrespective of whether the representation is actually false or misleading, or even turns out to be true. The person needed to have had reasonable grounds to make the claim at the time, not back-fill a substantiation later.

Factors that are likely to be taken into account when assessing if a claim is unsubstantiated are:

i.  the nature of the relevant goods or services;

ii.  the nature of the representation;

iii.  if the person had tried to substantiate the claim before making it, and if so the credibility of any information sources;

iv.  extent to which the claim complied with any relevant standards, codes and/or practices; and

v.  what were actual or potential effects of the claim.

Both Australasian substantiation regimes require action by the relevant regulator (ACCC or Commerce Commission). However the two regimes and processes materially differ. 

In Australia the ACCC can and must (if it wants to take action regarding unsubstantiated claims) issue substantiation notice, however New Zealand doesn’t have a similar notice requirement, instead the Commerce Commission can simply take action for breach of section 12A of the FTA. Fines for unsubstantiated claims are tied to non-compliance with the notice in Australia but not in New Zealand.

In practice though often threatening to take action regarding substantiation is a sufficient deterrent to bring errant (or even innocently misguided) traders back into line.

I don't know if Airtasker was able substantiate its claim that 'taskers' could earn up to $20,000 a month, although I suspect it’s probably true, but a recent review of its website indicate that references to earning potential have now been scaled back to a more conservative $5,000 a month figure.

If this issue doesn't blow over quickly, I'm sure Airtasker could post tasks in its own right seeking help from taskers with PR and possibly legal experience.