Resource For Australian Sex Workers: Deposits, Cancellations And Consumer Law

This is a general resource to better understand how contract law governs client and sex worker interactions. No part of this is to be considered legal advice. It is written by me (Kit Bauer). I have a law degree but am not qualified as a lawyer.

 

The exchange of sexual services for money (or whatever else you and your client agree on) is a contract. It does not matter if your interaction is in writing including emails or texts) or verbal, it is still a contract. This means it is governed by contract law and has various rules; the rules that I am going to talk about here are specific to cancellations and the refund of deposit.

Why should I write a cancellation policy?

Every contract has terms and, as an escort, you can decide what terms you want to govern your contract with your client. In the case of deposits, this means you can write terms for cancellations, refunds and deposits and when a client pays your deposit they are agreeing to these terms if you manage the process properly.

Where should I put my policy?

You have a few options for publishing these terms:

  • Put them on your website, if you have one

  • Put them on your ad, if there is space

  • Write them in a note on your phone and send them as a screenshot/copy and paste to each client, either via text or via email

What is important here is that your client is aware of your terms. This means you should tell your client these terms exist and where to find them. A few examples:

  • If your policy is available on your website, but your client has booked you directly via your ad, then your client won’t be considered to be aware of the policy and it won’t apply.

  • However, your client will be aware of your terms if you tell them “I have a cancellation policy and it can be found on my website” (ideally, send them the link). A good time to tell them this is when you’re agreeing on the amount of the deposit (and before you receive that money).  It does not matter if the client does not actually read your terms – the important point is that they know the terms exist and can readily access them.

  • Importantly, the client needs to know about these cancellation/deposit terms when you’re agreeing the terms of your overall agreement, and before they pay the deposit.  If you only point the client to your cancellation/deposit terms after you’ve received a deposit, the terms might not apply.

What should I put in my policy?

You can decide what you want to put in those terms. Are your deposits non-refundable within 24 hours of the booking? Cool. Will you refund with 72 hours’ notice? Cool. Will you refund minus all your reasonable expenses? Cool. This is your business! You decide, within limits of what is fair and reasonable.

It is important that you write enough detail into your policy. Here is non-exhaustive list of things to think about where a client cancels:

  • Define what costs will never be refundable if a client cancels. This could include things that you’ve booked and paid for in advance, like transport costs and accommodation costs, that you won’t be able to get a refund on.

  • It is wise to value your time spent in organising the booking – this is a part of your service and the time you spend on it is deserving of payment. If the client cancels, the non-refundable amount should also include the dollar value of the time you spent on arranging the booking.

  • Define your “notice period” (the time period in which you will offer refunds)in hours. “I will refund with 3 days’ notice” may sound sufficiently specific, but it is not. When exactly is 3 days from now? Is it 72 hours? Or anywhere between 48 and 72 hours? I suggest saying “I will partially refund your deposit with 72 hours’ notice.”

  • Any prepayment before the booking should expressly be described as a deposit (not as a partial payment).  If not, there’s a risk that you’ll need to refund it if the client cancels.

Say what will happen if you cancel:

  • You could offer a refund of the deposit or a reschedule, at the client’s choice.

  • Consider giving yourself power to cancel and keep the deposit if your client displays unsafe behaviour (e.g. intimidation or manipulation) before the booking.

Can I just say “all deposits are non-refundable rather than having a detailed policy?

You can try, but it probably won’t hold up.  

Consumer law in Australia is generally based around fairness and reasonableness. If you have charged a huge deposit, then saying it is non-refundable could be “unconscionable”, particularly if you don’t offer to reschedule the booking, and will not hold up if the client were to take any kind of action. If you charged a modest deposit (e.g. 10%-20% depending on the kind of work that goes in pre-booking and any expenses you incur pre-booking, like accommodation) then that is more likely to be considered fair.

It will be particularly unreasonable to say that your deposit is non-refundable if you cancel the booking (especially due to change of mind).  

Here is some extra reading on this topic.

I do not have a cancellation policy and my client is asking for a full refund of their deposit, what should I do?

First up, breathe. It is okay. The law (kinda) has your back. We enter contracts constantly and rarely think through all the terms, so the law steps in to help us with the things that we have not thought about.

In Australia, the Australian Consumer Law is the key piece of law in this space. The ACL is based around fair trade benefiting both consumers and businesses. It can be understood as trying to maintain or restore fairness to commercial transactions.

Now, take a read of this page here. As a sex worker you are providing a service, and so these guidelines on when a service can be cancelled are relevant to you, but not super relevant. It provides some guidance but is not that helpful to the specifics of our industry. But provides some guide points for telling a client what is and is not refundable. To name a few:

  • A client cannot cancel and demand the deposit be repaid just because they changed their mind

  • A client cannot cancel and demand the deposit be repaid because they wants the services delivered against your fair advice – this includes scenarios like the client pushing for a change of accommodation that would make you unsafe, the client insisting the service be delivered in a way that compromises your confidentiality (e.g. not letting you book your own flights), or insisting a BDSM service be delivered in a way that endangers either the client’s or your safety.

  • You deserve payment for the services you have already delivered. Like your time, attention and labour in organising the booking.

From a legal perspective, if you have no written policy then deciding what to do will come from three places:

  1. From the terms of the contract that you actually agreed – did you and your client talk about any costs that would not be refundable? Or had to be paid for by him? Things like flights for fly-me-to-you bookings

  2. From specific consumer law – this comes from ACCC and the Australian Consumer Law

  3. From the norms of the sex industry – what do other sex workers do? What is normal in the industry?

You can use all these three things to decide what is right in your circumstances.

When deciding what to do, keep in mind these things:

  • Value your time and services. You deserve compensation for the work you have done up to the time of cancellation.

  • Be fair and reasonable. This means offering a partial refund if that is fair to the client.

  • Clearly express why you are not offering a refund, or clearly express how much you are offering as a refund and why – show your client that this is not an opportunity for bargaining. Demonstrate to the client you have thought about the refund amount and tell them what you are doing based on what is fair in the circumstances.