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Letters from February 2016

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Out of the box

I rang a telecommunications store inquiring about a phone for seniors. The store claimed it had a suitable phone available, so I purchased it. I was not invited to see a display model in the store. Once the phone was removed from the box, we discovered it was entirely unsatisfactory. The volume wasn’t loud enough, the screen couldn’t be read easily and the numbers were too small. We were expecting audible ringtones, big buttons and big text. I rang the store asking for a refund and was told it only provided a refund if the phone was still in the unopened box. This phone is not fit for the purpose specified at the time of purchase. Should I be entitled to a refund? R YOUNG

You are correct that if the phone is not fit for the purpose specified at the time of purchase then you are covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act, whether the box has been opened or not. If you can’t resolve the problem with the company and it’s a member of the Telecommunication Disputes Resolution (TDR) scheme, you can ask the scheme for assistance. You can contact the TDR on 0508 98 98 98 or at tdr.org.nz.

UPDATE: Our member informed the store of our advice and received a refund.

Weighty issue

On a return flight from Australia, I was in a seat that was one third occupied by the gentleman sitting next to me. This prompted an exchange with the airline, which did not go well in my opinion. There were lots of apologies and “this is a sensitive subject” but nothing that made me feel the airline was taking the situation seriously. If I don’t get the space I purchased, does this breach the Consumer Guarantees Act? GORDON DINNISON

In this case, the airline has failed to provide the service you paid for – an empty single seat. You paid for a seat for one person – not two-thirds of a seat. As the service provided was not fit for purpose, we think you’re entitled to make a claim for compensation under the Consumer Guarantees Act. If the airline does not agree to compensation then you could consider taking your case to the Disputes Tribunal.

Delivery responsibility

I bought a phone online from a local retailer. It suggested I take out insurance in case the phone was damaged or lost before it was delivered. I thought the company selling the item was responsible for delivery under the Consumer Guarantees Act changes in 2014? KAREN MALCOLM

You’re correct – the retailer is responsible under the Consumer Guarantees Act for ensuring goods arrive undamaged, and compensating you if they do not.

In addition, when a company agrees to deliver goods you’ve bought, it has to make sure they get to you on time. If you haven’t agreed on a specific delivery time, then delivery has to be within a reasonable time. If there are any problems with delivery, a trader can’t just blame the courier. It’s the trader’s responsibility to provide a remedy. Perhaps you should suggest the store arranges insurance to cover its risk.

Engine failure

I bought a 2008 Kia vehicle for $19,000. It was New Zealand-new with 121,600km on the clock. After seven months, it had a catastrophic engine failure and requires either a replacement engine or an engine rebuild. I only travelled 5000km in the vehicle. The licensed motor vehicle dealer I bought it from says he is going to get back to me with options to keep costs down. I’m not sure whose costs he is talking about. Could you please advise what I should expect from a fair deal? PETER HEALEY

Given the price paid and your use of the vehicle since purchase, an engine replacement is likely to constitute a substantial failure under the Consumer Guarantees Act. In our view, no reasonable consumer would expect just 5000km and seven months’ use out of a $19,000 car before a major engine failure. From what you say, you may have grounds to reject the vehicle under the Act. If you are getting nowhere with the dealer, we suggest taking the company to the Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal. It costs $50 to file a tribunal claim.

UPDATE: After Peter pointed out the dealer’s obligations under the Consumer Guarantees Act he was offered a replacement vehicle, which he accepted.

Bluetooth interference

I recently bought an inverter microwave that’s interfering with our Bluetooth connection. This wasn’t happening with our old non-inverter model. Are there radio interference standards that must be met for electrical appliances?

George Block, Consumer Technical Writer says: Inverter microwaves, like all microwaves, work at a frequency of about 2.45GHz. This can affect radio frequency signals in the 2.4GHz band, which Bluetooth also uses. While all electronic appliances sold in New Zealand must comply with electromagnetic compatibility standards – compliant electrical products will have either the C-tick or the RCM tick – these required levels may not be low enough to stop some microwaves interfering with Bluetooth. Inverter microwaves continually adjust the energy they produce for cooking, which gives better control of heating and greater efficiency. But it also means they’re more likely than non-inverters to interfere with radio communication signals in the same frequency band. The strength of the microwaves diminishes rapidly with distance, so try moving your microwave and Bluetooth device further apart, or try using your microwave on a lower power setting.

Telco levy

On receiving my latest phone bill, I noticed a “Telco Levy Contribution” charge. I rang my provider for information and was told it was a government levy. The amount is small – 99¢ – but why was this added to my account and what exactly is it for? I did not offer to make a “contribution” to any telco. BRENDA HOLLAND

Annette Barnes, Consumer Finance Research Assistant says: In 2011, the government introduced the Telecommunications Development Levy. It funds public interest telecommunications services that would otherwise not be available, such as services for the deaf and hearing-impaired, rural broadband and improvements to the 111 emergency service. The levy, paid by telecommunication providers that earned more than $10 million in revenue in the previous year, is set at $50 million. The Commerce Commission calculates each telco’s fee based on its proportion of qualifying revenue. Last year, 18 telcos had to pay the levy, with almost 90 percent of the fee being paid by Spark (38 percent), Vodafone (28 percent) and Chorus (22 percent). Telcos pass this cost on to customers.

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