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Letters from October 2014

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Sea change

My partner and I booked a cruise with a travel company. We paid a $3000 deposit. Three months prior to the trip, work commitments made it impossible to go. We were told no refund was available as we had cancelled two days inside the three-month cut-off. We were able to transfer the booking to a different trip 18 months later. My partner and I have subsequently split up and will not be taking the second trip. Are we entitled to any kind of refund? ANDY PRICE

Deposits are not usually refundable unless otherwise stated in the contract’s terms and conditions (Ts&Cs). Your only other “out” is if the travel company fails to meet its side of the bargain (for example, it cancels the trip). So whenever you’re asked to hand over a deposit or pre-payment, take a good look at what the contract says about cancelling. Early next year, changes to the Fair Trading Act will ban unfair Ts&Cs– and those that are unclear or contain unreasonable penalties can be challenged.
UPDATE: The travel company has agreed to refund Andy’s deposit or hold on to it until he’s ready to take a trip in the future.

Something to chew on

Who owns my dental records – me or my dentist? If I change dentists, can I expect my records to be transferred to the new practice? A MEMBER

Your dentist can't refuse you access to your dental records on the grounds that they "own" them. You have the right to access your records under the Health Information Privacy Code. If you request a copy of your records, your dental practice must respond within 20 working days.

Multi-dysfunctional

In 2003, we put a multi-function hot-water cylinder into our new house. After seven years, it leaked and was replaced under its 10-year warranty. In our naivety, we paid the $800 plumber’s bill for re-installation. The replacement cylinder leaked after four years because of faulty manufacturing. The manufacturer has replaced the cylinder again, but we are now once more faced with a hefty plumber’s bill. Should we have to pay these associated costs? JAN CHAPPELL

The manufacturer should meet the costs associated with removing the faulty cylinder and installing its replacement. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, you can claim for any “reasonably foreseeable” loss resulting from the failure of goods. The plumber’s bill is a foreseeable loss resulting from the cylinder’s failure.

Exclusion delusion

I’m looking at buying some windows from a company in Christchurch. The company’s terms and conditions include a paragraph excluding liability for any loss, damage or defect. Can a company absolve itself of responsibility to this degree? SARAH SEIGNE

The short answer is “no”. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, companies must carry out their services with reasonable care and skill. Goods must also be of acceptable quality (free of defects, for instance). A company can’t opt out of its obligations under the Act when selling goods for non-business use.

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