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Letters from October 2017

Each month, our experts answer members' questions. If you're a paying Consumer member and have an issue, you can contact our Consumer Advice Line for help.

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Daily deal photo shoot

We purchased 2 vouchers for a photo session, with makeover, from a daily deal site. Each voucher cost $39 but was valued at $450 and valid for a maximum of 2 people. It also included a discount of $120 to be used towards digital or print photographs from the shoot. My family went to the session full of excitement but had to walk out with nothing. After the session, we were told we needed to pay a minimum of $880 for a photo package! Nowhere on the daily deal’s or photographer’s website is there a mention of this cost. We lost the cost of the vouchers and our Sunday afternoon for the shoot. We feel this unreasonable price was disclosed way too late in the process. We have approached the daily deal site but it has just referred us to the photographer. Is there anything in the Fair Trading Act that could help us in this situation? YING LIU

WE SAY: All traders, including daily deal sites, have to comply with the Fair Trading Act (FTA) and the Consumer Guarantees Act. In this case, the FTA is likely to apply because important conditions weren’t disclosed before you purchased the voucher. If these conditions had been clear, you may have chosen not to make the purchase. The FTA says any representations traders make must be accurate and not mislead or deceive consumers. We suggest you ask for your money back and also file a complaint against the trader with the Commerce Commission.

Update: Ying has received a refund.

Refunds: RRP or sale price?

My parents bought an induction cooktop. It is under warranty but not working correctly. The retailer referred my parents to the manufacturer, which sent an electrician around. The electrician couldn’t fix it and, as the manufacturer doesn’t make a cooktop this size any more, my parents have been offered a refund. They bought the cooktop on sale: are they entitled to a refund of the recommended retail or the sale price? A MEMBER

WE SAY: The Consumer Guarantees Act says that if a problem is substantial, you are entitled to reject the product and choose a replacement of the same type and similar value or a full refund of your purchase price. If your parents opt for a refund, they will be entitled to a refund of the sale price, plus the cost of the electrician’s visit, if they paid for this.

Saggy bed

I purchased a bed for $1998 from a furniture store. The bed was delivered in February this year. We discussed with the salesperson that our previous bed (about 8 years old) was sagging and making our backs ache. We were assured this bed would not sag. We are not large people, but the new bed is already sagging – worse than our old bed – after only 6 months. I would not want to replace this bed with the same type, but would be willing to pay a bit more for a better bed. What action do you recommend I take with the retailer? SHARON COOPER

WE SAY: The first thing you should do is go back to the shop that sold you the bed and discuss the matter. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, the retailer is responsible for ensuring goods it sells are, among other things, fit for any particular purpose made known by the customer and that products meet the description given at the time of sale. On the face of it, these requirements have not been met. The retailer may want to have the bed looked at by the manufacturer. But the retailer is responsible for sorting out the problem. If the bed isn’t fit for purpose, and can’t be fixed, you have the right to ask for a refund of your purchase price.

Under-age diners

A group of my son’s 17-year-old friends booked a table at a restaurant with a bar. They were shown to their table and a different staff member then came and asked for ID. They explained they were there to eat and would only be drinking soft drinks. They were asked to leave as the establishment had a bar. My son, who is 18, was due to join them but arrived as they were being shown out. Can an eating establishment refuse dinner service based on age if there is a bar on the premises? KATE ROBINSON

WE SAY: Unfortunately for your son’s friends, the establishment had the right to ask them to leave once they found out their ages, as the premises is a designated area for alcohol. Not only were the 17-year-olds at risk of being fined for being on the premises without a legal guardian, it may have affected the establishment’s licence issued under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

Car warranty expiry

We purchased a new car in August 2014. In February this year it developed a fault so we took it to the dealership to have it sorted. This fault has reared its ugly head 3 times since. The importer has had the car transported to Tauranga to have a dealership there look at it. My question is now that the 3-year warranty has expired, if this problem recurs are we still covered as it was a pre-existing condition prior to the warranty expiring? KAYE TURPIN

WE SAY: Provided this is a private vehicle, the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) will apply regardless of the warranty’s expiry. If you had known the car would have this recurring fault, you would probably not have bought it. Where a product isn’t of acceptable quality and the failure is substantial, the CGA gives you the right to reject the car and choose a replacement or a refund from the dealer.

Hot water heating costs

I’ve been told a heat pump for heating home hot water is more efficient than gas or power. Do you have any information on the cost of heating water and capital costs of a unit? PATRICK BRADFORD

George Block, Consumer technical writer, says: A heat pump water heater (HPWH) is considerably more efficient in pure energy terms – it converts every kilowatt of electricity into 2 to 3 kilowatts of water heating power, compared with a gas water heater only returning about 80% efficiency.

However, natural gas is much cheaper than electricity. The result? Gas water heaters (both instant and storage) generally cost the same or less to run than HPWHs. This only applies to gas water heaters that use piped natural gas. Those on LPG are more expensive on average than HPWHs to run. HPWHs also cost more to purchase and install, which results in their overall lifetime cost (including upfront capital and running costs) usually being significantly higher than water heaters powered by natural gas. This assumes you have an existing piped gas connection – getting hooked up to mains gas can cost $1500, about as much as the gas heater unit!

Water weight in chicken

I’ve heard consumers complain about the amount of water in chicken. I’ve also noticed this in recent years, and have seen a video of a machine injecting liquid into whole chickens. Does this happen in New Zealand and should consumers have the right to know how much water is being added? CLIFF BRERETON

Belinda Castles, Consumer senior writer, says: The machine you’ve seen injects brine and flavours into chicken. This practice does occur in New Zealand, but the ingredients list must state the addition of the brine or flavours. Plain whole chickens don’t undergo this process. However, processing fresh poultry does involve water for chilling the carcass and also to reduce campylobacter contamination.

Campylobacter are found in the gut of chickens. Campylobacteriosis, the infection caused by the campylobacter bug, remains the most commonly notified disease in New Zealand. In 2015, 6218 cases were reported. Contaminated raw chicken products are one of the main ways the bacteria get transferred to humans. Poultry processors add chlorine to the water used to wash and chill the birds to try to reduce bacteria levels before chickens arrive on shop shelves.

Some water used in processing the chickens may also be taken up by the meat. Under the Food Standards Code, water is permitted as a processing aid as long as it’s used at the lowest amount to perform the function. If water is used in excess of this (or as an ingredient) and makes up more than 5% of the final weight, it must be declared.

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