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Letters from November 2017

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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Bag searches — are they legal?

When I was in a hardware store recently, my handbag was searched. Is that legal? I’m assuming there was a “terms of admission” sign, but it was quite an unsettling experience. A MEMBER

WE SAY: If shop staff ask to search your bag, you can refuse. They have no right to do this without your consent, even if they have signs saying they can. While shop staff can lawfully make a “citizen’s arrest” for shoplifting and force you to stay in the shop until police arrive, they have no right to search you or your bag. Furthermore, they can only detain you if they suspect you’ve stolen an expensive item (worth $1000 or more), or it’s between the hours of 9pm and 6am. They also must have good grounds for thinking you’ve stolen an item. If they forcibly detain you in any other circumstances, they could face charges for criminal assault. Shops can require you to leave your bag outside the store before entry. They also have the right to ask you to leave the shop.

Hardwired heater replacement

We’ve had a problem with a faulty pull switch on a bathroom heater that’s still under a 2-year warranty. The retailer says it will exchange the item, but it’ll cost us about $100 to get the hardwired heater removed and the replacement installed. We feel the supplier of the heater should pay this cost. We’re aware of the Consumer Guarantees Act and feel this appliance was not fit for purpose. A MEMBER

You can ask the retailer to pay to get your replacement heater installed. The Consumer Guarantees Act gives you the right to claim consequential losses resulting from the failure of a product. This means you can claim for additional costs arising from the problem, such as removal of the old heater and installation of a new one, to put you back in the position you would have been in if the appliance hadn’t been faulty. We suggest you point this out to the retailer.

Ring resize and repair

We used a jeweller to resize my wedding band and engagement ring, and to replace the claw setting on the engagement ring. The jeweller failed to supply the repairs and resize the rings in the agreed time frame. I also have concerns over the quality of work. We have returned the engagement ring twice for remedy. I am still not happy with the result. We sought advice from another jeweller, who thinks the new claw setting has been damaged and repaired – no longer the new setting we paid for. We asked the jeweller for a refund so we could get someone else to fix the ring but this was refused. How many attempts to remedy do we need to give the jeweller before cancelling the service? Can we cancel due to a lack of reasonable care? MELINA REEDY

WE SAY: In this case, it seems the jeweller hasn’t taken reasonable care and skill to do the work requested. You’ve given them the chance to remedy the problem, but you don’t have to give them multiple chances to put things right. As you haven’t been able to resolve the matter, we suggest lodging a claim in the Disputes Tribunal for a refund. To support your claim, you can get a written opinion on the quality of the work from another qualified jeweller. If you have to pay for this report, you can add that cost to your claim. It costs $45 to take a case to the tribunal when the amount in dispute is less than $2000.

Defective dishdrawer handles

We purchased several appliances as part of a house-build package, taking possession of the house in June 2015. In October 2016, both handles of the double dishdrawer broke and were replaced under warranty. This year, the handles broke again and were again replaced under warranty. This time we were told we had to pay for repair, which we’ve done. We don’t think we should have to pay for a repeated fault, particularly within the 2-year warranty period. We’ve written to the manufacturer asking for a refund of the service charge and some assurance of free repair should the same fault reoccur. We haven’t received a reply. Are we justified in making this request? ANNETTE VAN BRAKEL

WE SAY: Yes. Not only are you justified in expecting a refund of the service charge, given the handles failed less than a year after the previous replacement, but also in wanting an assurance the problem will be dealt with if it reoccurs. If you have further problems with any of the appliances purchased as part of your house-build package, we’d recommend taking it up with the seller rather than the manufacturer.

Update: The manufacturer refunded the service charge.

A clock with no display

I purchased an alarm clock about 2 years ago. The display stopped working 3 months after the 2-year warranty expired. Essentially it’s now an alarm clock without a functioning clock! I took the device back to the retailer and requested it be repaired. After 2 weeks, I was told the manufacturer was “waiting for a part to arrive”. Now, 2 more weeks have passed and the shop contacted me to advise it would cost me $120 to repair the clock. I would certainly have expected a $400 clock to last more than 2 years! It’s only ever been used as a personal clock/radio and has never been dropped, damaged or mistreated. Am I entitled to have the clock fixed free? PHIL DOUGLAS

WE SAY: As you say, for the price paid it’s reasonable to expect the clock to last longer than 2 years. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, you have the right to insist the retailer has the fault fixed within a reasonable time. As the product isn’t of acceptable quality, the retailer should have the clock repaired at its cost. If repairs aren’t done within a reasonable time, you’re entitled to request a replacement or a refund.

Update: The retailer had the clock repaired free of charge.

Gas central heating or ducted heat pump?

We are deciding between gas central heating (either radiators or ducted air) or a ducted heat pump. Our house is 186m² with double-glazed windows, but isn’t open-plan. Our ideal system will heat the house evenly and provide the option of air conditioning for the hottest of summer nights. We are nearing retirement, which means we’ll be in the house more often during the day, so all day ambient temperature will be more important – as will watching the pennies. While the initial cost of the system is less important than getting the best system to suit our needs, running costs might influence our decision too. A MEMBER

George Block, Consumer technical writer, says: My first instinct would be going for the ducted heat pump. It’s the only central heating option that allows cooling in summer – ducted and radiator gas systems can only heat. The running costs of the ducted heat pump and ducted or radiator gas systems will be similar. While gas is a third of the cost of electricity per unit, heat pumps convert each unit of electricity into upwards of 3 units (kW) of warmth, meaning they both cost about 8 to 10¢ per kW of heat generated, which is cheap as chips as heating goes. Also, gas prices are increasing faster than electricity (about 4% per year), while power prices are comparatively flat. The upfront cost of installing the ducted heat pump should be on par, or slightly cheaper, than gas.

That said, gas central heating does have advantages:

  • It may be slightly quicker to come on, as the gas burner will fire up more quickly than the ducted heat pump.
  • Its performance is largely unaffected by outside temperatures (while heat pumps become less efficient as the temperature falls).
  • Some people just prefer the type of heat generated by a radiator compared with ducted. Radiator central heating is silent and you can feel the toasty sensation of the heat coming from the radiators.

Even in light of these points, I think the ducted heat pump remains the best option for your home because of its ability to cool during summer and its lower lifetime costs. If I were installing a ducted heat pump system I’d go for a Daikin. In our latest appliance reliability survey, Daikin heat pumps returned very good reliability and satisfaction ratings from our members.

Communication in an emergency

In an emergency, how can I communicate if I don’t have a landline and the power is off, which means I can’t use the computer or recharge my phone? The mobile network was overloaded after the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes, and didn’t work. I live in earthquake-shaky Wellington and we are due a big one, so this is a realistic concern. LINDA PEARS

Hadyn Green, Consumer technology writer, says: If the power goes out across the city during an emergency, then it’s possible no phone lines will work, as even copper lines need power at the exchange. In the event of an earthquake, there’s also the issue of downed phone lines. In Kaikoura, the mobile network was back up much faster than landlines because of emergency, portable cell towers brought in and set up in hours. If you have upgraded to a fibre line, you could get a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply). Essentially this is a large battery that can run your fibre line if the power goes out. This means you’d still be able to make calls if the electricity goes out.

Travel rules

Checking in for a flight to Canada last year, we were asked if we’d applied for electronic travel authorisation (eTA). This was the first we’d heard about this requirement. Are these authorisations becoming more common? A MEMBER

Olivia Wannan, Consumer investigative writer, says: Several countries, including Canada, have introduced electronic travel authority schemes. They require travellers to fill in an application online prior to travel. It’s a requirement if you’re travelling to Canada or the US. The European Union is planning on introducing similar compulsory pre-screening approvals for travel into 26 European countries. Even if you’ve travelled to an overseas destination before, it’s important to check the entry requirements every time you book a trip. Applications can take up to several days to process so give yourself plenty of time.

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