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Letters from February 2018

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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Over-booked acommodation

I booked a night’s accommodation through an online booking site. I received 2 confirmation emails and the site took payment for the room from my credit card account. However, when we arrived at the accommodation we were advised there was no booking or payment. The manager was apologetic and embarrassed. He took the matter up with the booking site and suggested I should also. We eventually found accommodation about 50km out of town, but it was more expensive. After I contacted the booking site, it agreed to refund the amount I’d paid for the room. However, it refused to cover the extra replacement accommodation costs. Do I have any rights in a situation like this? SUE SCOTT

WE SAY: The booking site hasn’t taken reasonable care and skill to provide its services to you. This is a breach of the Consumer Guarantees Act. The site is responsible for the difference in cost between what you paid and the more expensive accommodation (if none at the same price was available). You’re also entitled to claim any consequential losses, such as the cost of petrol to travel the 50km to find another bed for the night. The compensation should put you back in the position you would’ve been in had the original booking worked out.

UPDATE: The booking site has reimbursed Sue for her extra costs.

Ventilation installation

We had a ventilation system installed 4 months ago. The installers, who were employed by the retailer, made cracks in the ceilings throughout the house so we took pictures and sent them through to the retailer. Assessments were made and a plasterer was employed to fix the cracks. Then a painter came to do their bit. After all this, one room still has cracks in the ceiling and the scotia, and the hallway painting is not the nicest. I have been ringing and texting the painter but with no return calls. What can be done, please? A MEMBER

WE SAY: You don’t have to chase the painter to fix the problem. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, the retailer that installed the system is responsible for seeing the damage is remedied within a reasonable period. We’d recommend contacting the retailer and saying you’d like the remaining problems fixed.

Booking accommodation ahead of time

I’m booking accommodation for an event in 5 months. It appears I’ll be charged for my 3-night stay as soon as the booking’s confirmed. I’ve always thought the booking is usually held by giving the provider your credit card details – it seems a bit much to pay the whole amount almost 5 months in advance (though there is a cancellation policy, so if you cancel within the prescribed time you get a refund). What is your opinion about this? A MEMBER

WE SAY: Provided the company makes it clear to the customer their card will be charged immediately, it’s entitled to do this. Paying months in advance does carry risk to the consumer (for example, if the provider becomes insolvent), but if the company insists on immediate payment, you’re in a take-it-or-leave-it situation.

The $360 hair straightener

The hair straightener I bought online for $360 just over 2 years ago has died. I contacted customer service to ask if the straightener could be repaired. I was told that as the product was out of warranty, a replacement couldn’t be offered but I could get a discount on a new one. I would like to challenge the retailer on the life expectancy of its straighteners. Can you help me? KYLIE FINDLAY

WE SAY: You would expect this expensive hair straightener to last longer than just over 2 years, regardless of any warranty. If you haven’t caused the fault that led to the failure then the problem should be covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA). That’s provided you bought it from an online retailer operating in the New Zealand market, rather than an overseas site. Under the CGA, if the fault can’t be repaired you’re entitled to ask for a refund or a replacement.

Kitset carport

I bought a kitset carport for $3400 from an online trader and encountered no end of problems when putting it together. A major issue was the instruction manual, which seems to have been run through Google Translate a few times. It’s riddled with unintelligible phrases and basic spelling errors, while many of the images and diagrams are so blurry they’re useless. The design of the structure and the components’ standard of manufacture added insult to injury. To my horror, the roof panels were too short to fit on the supporting beams without falling out. I eventually had to enlist a professional builder who advised shortening the beams. The self-tapping screws supplied in the kit appeared to be made of cheese. I stripped several, even when using my drill on its lowest torque setting. I emailed the company requesting $750 compensation for the hopeless instruction manual, and the poor quality and inaccurate sizing of the components. It replied, acknowledging “the manual and a few aspects of the design” needed improvement. But it refused to provide compensation, claiming I failed to give it a chance to remedy the issue during the assembly process. MARSDEN ROBINSON

George Block, Consumer technical writer, says: In our view, the faults you describe – from the useless instruction manual to the shoddy components – constitute a major failure of this product. It’s unlikely any reasonable consumer would have bought the carport at this price if they’d known about the numerous problems. Nobody wants screws with the consistency of cheese. When a product has a major fault, the Consumer Guarantees Act entitles you to a replacement or a refund. You can also keep the item and claim compensation from the retailer. You don’t have to give it multiple opportunities to put things right and your request for $750 compensation is more than reasonable. The company should come to the party.

UPDATE: After threatening to take the case to the Disputes Tribunal, Marsden accepted $750 store credit from the retailer as he was keen on a barbecue it was advertising. We wish him luck with its assembly.

Misinformed about our dishwasher test

I made a decision to buy a Haier dishwasher that had been well reviewed by Consumer NZ. However, the salesman informed me you only test the appliance’s cycle for 20 minutes. He also said that price counts a lot in your ratings. Is this true? LYNNE SHUKER

Erin Bennett, Consumer technical writer, says: The salesman is incorrect on both counts. We test dishwashers by running them on the normal or default wash, for an entire wash. We then repeat the test to make sure we aren’t getting an unusual result. Price has no effect on our scoring. Our results are based on how well an appliance performs in testing.

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