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Letters from June/July 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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Sticky deck

We recently had two decks re-stained by a deck restoration specialist, who we told to choose the staining product (as he was the expert). On the day the stain was to be applied, we knew it was going to rain and suggested the specialist wait, but he opted to go ahead. He finished the job in one-and-a-half hours – drying time was supposed to be two hours. Less than half-an-hour after application it rained. Within 40 minutes it was torrential. This resulted in sticky decks we weren’t happy with, so we called the specialist back. He contacted the product rep and both agreed there was a problem. The rep said the stain hadn’t been applied properly and recommended additional work. This was done but the deck is still sticky and it leaves marks when walked on. We’ve been told we have to pay the specialist’s bill or face legal action. The company claims we chose an inferior product, which we didn’t. What can we do? A MEMBER

WE SAY: The deck restoration specialist hasn’t carried out the staining with reasonable care and skill. This has been acknowledged by both the specialist and the product rep. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, the specialist is responsible for remedying the situation by redoing the work to an appropriate standard or paying the cost of having someone else do so. We suggest writing to the company, listing the problems. Ask for your deck to be redone and say you’ll only pay once the job has been done properly.

Deteriorating glasses

I bought a pair of spectacles for about $1000 in 2016. Recently I’ve been experiencing problems with them. The lens coatings have deteriorated and now I find that looking at any bright light manifests a blurry halo effect, which affects my vision. On closer inspection, I found the lenses have a network of very fine scratches. The retailer refuses to help, saying they were out of the two-year warranty. I’ve worn spectacles for more than 60 years and am fastidious in the care of them – all my previous glasses had performed well for periods of up to 15 years. Can you help? A MEMBER

WE SAY: The Consumer Guarantees Act says goods must be of acceptable quality, so if the coating on your glasses is breaking down after only two years then you have rights, even if the warranty has expired. We suggest getting a second opinion from another optometrist to see if it’s a quality issue (where you have rights), or if you may have unknowingly caused the problem.

UPDATE: The coating breakdown was confirmed and the spectacles replaced.

Delivery damage

I bought two pieces of furniture and paid for delivery that was to be organised by the store. Both pieces arrived unwrapped, and one item had scratches. I called the shop and the manager said damaged goods were not its responsibility. They said the delivery company was responsible. Do I have the right to ask the retailer to sort this out? JAMES LISTER

WE SAY: Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, responsibility for getting the furniture to you undamaged lies with the retailer, not the delivery company. If the retailer’s policy is not to cover damage done by a delivery company, then its policy is not legal. We recommend pointing this out to the retailer and asking it to reconsider its response.

Leaky guttering

I employed a roofing company to replace the roof and guttering on my house. I didn’t choose the guttering product; it was supplied by the roofing company. Since being installed, the guttering isn’t able to handle heavy rain. It sags and rainwater spills. I’ve contacted the roofing company and was told it isn’t responsible and I should contact the guttering manufacturer. Is this correct? A MEMBER

WE SAY: If the guttering was supplied by the roofing company, it’s liable under the Consumer Guarantees Act for any failure of the product it installed (or, as in this case, supplying an inadequate product). It’s also liable under the act if the problem was caused by the guttering being installed poorly. Either way, the roofing company should be taking responsibility, not sending you to the manufacturer. Go back to the roofing company and ask it to fix the problem.

Call-out fees

I purchased a water pump in October 2017 from a specialist pump retailer. Over Christmas, we noticed the pump kept switching on every few minutes for a short time, even though no water was being used. The retailer sent an engineer who was unable to identify the problem, so he replaced the pump temporarily with a loan pump. The new pump was taken back to the workshop. A call-out fee of $90 was quoted. The retailer tells me it has a “back to base” policy for products under a manufacturer’s warranty and we were supposed to disconnect the pump and take it to its premises to avoid any call-out charges. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the skills or tools to do this. Should we be charged? LEE BRAITHWAITE

WE SAY: The company shouldn’t be charging you to repair a pump that is still essentially new. You paid this specialist retailer to install the pump because it’s a job for an expert, not a consumer. You shouldn’t be expected to disconnect the faulty pump. The pump is clearly not of acceptable quality. Regardless of the warranty, all costs – including call-out fees – of repairing the pump are the responsibility of the retailer.

Administration costs?

I went into a flooring shop and chose vinyl flooring priced at $78 per metre. I ordered two metres. I assumed this would cost $156, but was told it would cost $239. Two reasons were given: first, I had to pay an administration cost and second, I would have to pay for the vinyl to be delivered to the shop from elsewhere in Auckland. I suggested to the retailer the price of the vinyl was falsely presented and any admin cost should be included. Also, having to pay for the vinyl to be delivered to its own shop seemed ridiculous. Am I crazy? The retailer said this is “standard procedure”. Is it? A MEMBER

WE SAY: While it’s not uncommon for shops to get stock delivered, you should be made aware of any additional fees well before placing an order. In this case, we think the fees should have been included in the advertised price – or at least displayed next to this price, in the same-sized font. Traders risk breaching the Fair Trading Act if they mislead consumers about the price of goods. To improve consumer protection, we’re campaigning for all-inclusive pricing rules requiring retailers to display the full price upfront, inclusive of any mandatory fees.

Smoke alarms

Regarding your test of smoke alarms, you recommend not purchasing Universal MI3050S 10-year ionisation alarms. My question is what advice do you offer to those who have purchased and fitted these alarms at a cost of $50 each? Should we look at replacing them all? Or will they stand the job for safety? A MEMBER

Paul Smith, Consumer head of testing, says: I would keep them until they fail, but add a couple of photoelectric alarms in the hallway or near bedrooms. Universal alarms do respond to smoke. They’re just very slow at picking up smouldering fires. If you find they give off too many false alarms, you might end up replacing them earlier.

Kettle recall

A few months ago my kettle was subject to a product recall. I logged the model number online, provided all my details and then waited for the replacement to be sent. I am still waiting. Apparently this is a global recall as the handles fall off, resulting in burns. The manufacturer told me it would take time to get a replacement as the impact is worldwide, but to stop using the kettle immediately. Am I unreasonable to expect a new kettle within four months? SARAH KNIGHT

Annette Barnes, Consumer finance research assistant, says: Four months is too long to be without your morning cuppa! You don’t have to wait for the manufacturer to provide a new kettle. You can go back to the retailer and request a refund or replacement of the same type and similar value. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, when a product is unsafe you can reject it and get your money back. A kettle with a handle that could fall off at any minute is clearly not safe. You can keep tabs on product recalls at consumer.org.nz.

UPDATE: A new kettle arrived from the manufacturer the day Sarah contacted us.

Privacy law

Is seven years a reasonable time for an insurance company to keep our personal information if the company provides a quotation for insurance which is ultimately not accepted? The company says it’s company policy. JODY COWPER-JAMES

Paul Doocey, Consumer adviser, says: There’s no need to retain the information for seven years. The insurance company should explain why its policy is to do so in a case like this – saying the information is kept because that’s the “policy” isn’t satisfactory. You could complain to the Privacy Commissioner as it appears, on the face of it, that the company is ignoring its obligations under privacy law.

Connecting gas

We’re installing a natural gas heater to replace a log fire. The models we’re looking at are freestanding. We can’t find any comparison tests between models. One model (Heat & Glo VRTIKL) claims an advantage because it runs without an electric connection, whereas other brands require a mains connection. Are you able to give us advice on this? A MEMBER

James le Page, Consumer technical writer, says: There is a section in the Heat & Glo VRTIKL installation guide on wiring, and usual practice is to connect it to the mains. However, it does have an optional battery pack, so you can run the heater when the power goes out. I would steer clear of installing a gas heater without any mains connection, because then you have to deal with the inconvenience and cost of regularly changing batteries.

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