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Letters from Dec 2018/Jan 2019

Each month, our experts answer members' questions. If you're a paying Consumer member and have a consumer issue, you can contact our advice line for help.

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Courier damage

My wife purchased a china tea set advertised on Trade Me by an Auckland antique shop. The shop sent the tea set by courier and it was signature-required. We arrived home and found the parcel at our front door. On opening, we found the tea set was broken. We photographed the damage and sent the details to the seller. The seller contacted the courier company, which picked up the package and is investigating the issue. Our last two emails to the seller asking when the refund would be made were unanswered so we lodged a dispute with Trade Me. Since then, we have been told the store is waiting for the courier to refund it before it refunds my wife. I believe this is wrong. The seller’s contract with the courier has nothing to do with us. We had a contract with the seller who should refund us immediately – am I correct? A MEMBER

WE SAY: You’ve been given the runaround. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, the seller must sort out the problem promptly – you should be refunded the purchase price (including any shipping fees). The seller having problems with the courier isn’t your problem and we suggest pointing this out. If your wife paid by credit card and a refund is still not forthcoming, you could ask your bank for a chargeback.

UPDATE: Our member was eventually refunded.

iPhone issues

In November 2016, we purchased an iPhone for our daughter. Now she is experiencing problems with it. The main one was that, when receiving and making calls, she couldn’t hear the person on the other end, and they couldn't hear her. On taking the phone back to the retailer, she was told it couldn’t be fixed under warranty as it was damaged due to a cracked screen (which had been cracked since November 2017). However, we can’t see any link between the problems she was experiencing and the cracked screen. This phone cost $1156, not a cheap item and we’re told we are not covered to have it fixed. What are our rights? MICHELLE CLARK

WE SAY: The retailer’s made a bad call in this case. Regardless of the warranty, it has an obligation under the Consumer Guarantees Act to assess the cause of the fault. If the problem has nothing to do with the cracked screen, then you would expect the fault with the phone to be fixed for free. If a repair isn’t possible, you can ask for a replacement or refund of the purchase price.

UPDATE: The retailer has given Ms Clark’s daughter a new phone.

Heater hassle

I have a wall-mounted bathroom heater that activates via a pull switch. The heater’s several years old, so out of its 12-month warranty. The pull cord on it has snapped, so I contacted the manufacturer to get a replacement – a simple task, so I thought. However, the support person said it doesn’t have replacement pull cords and the switch would need to be replaced with a hard-wired switch. I thought that, under the Consumer Guarantees Act, it was illegal for products to be sold without replacement parts being available. LYNLEY CLARKE

WE SAY: The Consumer Guarantees Act requires manufacturers (or importers if the goods are manufactured overseas) to take reasonable steps to ensure spare parts and repair facilities are available. However, the act only requires them to do so for a reasonable period after goods are sold. That means you won’t always be able to get your hands on spare parts to repair older appliances.

UPDATE: Ms Clarke discovered the model had been recalled and received a new model.

Credit vs refund

I purchased a handbag from a speciality handbag shop in November 2017. I paid $50 for it, reduced from $75 as it was on sale. Recently I noticed it was cracking in a couple of places and the handles were starting to tear. I took it back and asked for a replacement or a refund. The saleswoman told me because the handbag was synthetic, it was only going to last a “couple” of months and there was nothing she could do. I said I didn’t think the bag was fit for purpose and that I hadn’t abused or overloaded it. She then said she could only give me a shop credit, which I accepted. However, I’m still not happy and want to know my rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act. I’ve had non-leather handbags in the past and they’ve lasted for years. KERRY BAKER

WE SAY: We think you’ve been sold a dud product and given poor advice. It’s unlikely you would have bought the handbag, regardless of material, if you knew it would only last a couple of months. Goods on sale aren’t exempt from the Consumer Guarantees Act and must be of acceptable quality – the only caveat is you’re not covered for defects pointed out to you when you buy. We’re disappointed the saleswoman said store credit was your only option – it’s not. You’re entitled to a refund of the purchase price.

Faulty invoice

We paid an electrician to replace our lights with LEDs. However, three lights were faulty. We called the electrician back and he replaced them. He sent us an account for his labour. I understand he has to make a living and it wasn’t his fault there was a problem with the LEDs, but should we have to pay? ANNE HENLEY

WE SAY: While it might not be the electrician’s fault the LEDs he installed were faulty, the cost of replacing and installing them is his problem – not yours. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA), goods sold to you must be of acceptable quality and fit for purpose, which your faulty lights clearly weren’t. The cost of installing the new lights is regarded as a consequential loss and, under the CGA, must also be covered by the electrician.

Insurance overlap

I’m seeking travel insurance for an overseas trip. There seems to be an overlap between insurance that comes automatically and free-of-charge with credit cards and paid-for insurance, such as Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI). The SCTI covers pre-existing conditions and meets my requirements better than the credit card insurance. However, the SCTI policy says “if all or any part of a valid claim is covered by another source, including any … banks and/or credit card providers … you must claim against them first”. At best, SCTI will only cover the difference. My problem is the credit card document says the same thing. What should I do? MIKE LEAR

Olivia Wannan, Consumer investigative writer, says: If you haven’t purchased Southern Cross insurance, you could extend your credit card travel policy to cover your pre-existing medical conditions. Most credit card underwriters will, for a fee. If you can, then you may not need to buy any other travel insurance. However, if you choose to take up both policies, there shouldn’t be any issues if you need to make a claim with Southern Cross for a pre-existing medical condition. Your credit card insurance doesn’t cover it, so there’s no conflict. We checked the wording of the policies and found if you were claiming for a personal accident, you could claim under both policies and both insurers would be required to pay out. That said, theoretically, you could have to pay two excesses. Claiming under both policies for anything else wouldn’t be possible (although in practice, you would expect the companies to reach an agreement).

Home heating costs

I’m confused about the home heating costs on your website. It shows the price per kWh for space heaters, central heating and hot water heating. What I don’t understand is why the price per kWh changes across the three types of heating. For example, LPG is shown as about 24¢/kWh for space heating, about 19¢/kWh for central heating, and about 58¢/kWh for (storage) hot water heating. The figures for natural gas are 11¢, 9.5¢, and 24¢ respectively. I understand there potentially being some heat loss in hot water heating, but I don’t understand why costs/kWh would be different for central heating from space heating? A MEMBER

James le Page, Consumer technical writer, says: The difference comes down to the efficiency of heating. Gas central heating is typically 10% more efficient than the equivalent space heating, so this is factored into our cost/kWh calculation. It’s more efficient to have a central boiler doing the job, rather than using individual heaters dotted throughout the house. The jump in cost to water heating is because it takes more energy to heat water in comparison to heating air. We also account for the efficiency of hot water storage.

Long-term solar power commitment

What is Consumer’s view on signing up to 20-year solar power deals? I’m tempted to sign up but 20 years is an awfully long time to be unable to take advantage of any other cheaper power options that could come along. STEPHEN MOORE

Paul Doocey, Consumer adviser, says: One of the main difficulties with such a scheme is what could happen if a customer sells their house within the 20-year period. You can get the system moved to your new home, assuming it’s suitable for solar – but it will cost. Alternatively, you’d get the buyer of your property to agree to continue to receive the services and assume the other contractual obligations. They’d need to continue paying the monthly fee. You could buy out the remaining monthly payments for the term, likely to cost many thousands of dollars, but you’d still need the buyer to agree to receive the solar energy services (at no charge to them). There are other potential drawbacks. What if the company shuts up shop? If the company goes into liquidation or receivership (or simply stops trading for whatever reason) you’d be an unsecured creditor and none of the company’s obligations under the agreement will be met. You’ll also still have to pay for electricity and the fixed costs to provide it from the grid when you’re not getting enough solar power for your needs. All in all, we recommend giving these schemes a wide berth.

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