Consumers misled by claims their heat pumps needed pricey servicing.
A heat pump servicing company has been fined $75,000 for telling customers their heat pumps were leaking refrigerant gas when they weren’t.
The company, Ocean Contracting, told customers they needed to pay between $180 and $400 to “top up” the refrigerant gas, and that the heat pump wouldn’t work properly if it wasn’t topped up. Some customers were also shown a gauge claiming to record low gas pressure.
A Commerce Commission investigation into 10 complaints found none of the customers’ heat pumps needed to be topped-up. During the investigation, an Ocean Contracting technician admitted falsely diagnosing refrigerant leaks.
All complainants, mostly retirees in Otago or Southland, received cold calls from Ocean Contracting in 2016 or 2017, and were later visited by the company to carry out the servicing.
Ocean Contracting pleaded guilty to 10 charges of breaching the Fair Trading Act.
In sentencing in the Christchurch District Court, Judge Neave said “this was a situation that was created by the company’s flawed policies and for which the company must accept responsibility”.
Some of the complainants were financially vulnerable and “paying for the top-up procedure was a significant expense for them,” Judge Neave said.
Several customers incurred additional costs when they hired another company to check Ocean Contracting’s claims.
Ocean Contracting has agreed to pay reparation to the customers for expenses they incurred.
Be extremely wary about cold calls from heat pump servicing companies. While heat pumps need regular maintenance, much of it you can do yourself and you don’t need to pay hefty fees to servicing companies. Here's how to clean your own heat pump..
If you’re feeling pressured by a cold-calling sales rep, don’t feel shy about hanging up.
The Fair Trading Act also gives you rights against cold-calling sales reps.
If you agree to buy goods or services from a cold-caller and the value is more than $100, you have the right to cancel for any reason. The company must tell you this verbally and in writing.
You can cancel the deal within five working days of receiving the written agreement.
Companies risk breaching the Fair Trading Act if they fail to tell you about your rights or mislead you about the need for a product or service. Make a complaint to the Commerce Commission if this happens. Let us know too.