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27 February 2023

Media alert: Consumer NZ lodges Cook Strait ferries complaint with the Commerce Commission

Consumer NZ has lodged a complaint with the Commerce Commission, alleging Interislander and Bluebridge are misleading passengers about their rights.

The watchdog believes the Cook Strait ferry operators are failing to meet their obligations under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) and are misleading consumers about their rights – which means they are also breaching the Fair Trading Act (FTA).

Consumer has asked the Commission to investigate and take action to prevent Interislander and Bluebridge from misleading passengers about their rights.

“We have recently received complaints from people impacted by ferry cancellations and delays,” said Jon Duffy, Consumer NZ chief executive.

“Under the CGA the ferry operators are required to carry out services (scheduled sailings) with reasonable care and skill.

“Given the frequency of sailing disruptions, caused by mechanical issues, we do not think the operators are using reasonable care and skill in providing their services,” said Duffy.

The CGA also requires ferry operators to provide a service which is fit for purpose.

“It’s our view that when someone makes a booking, they do so expecting the ferry to arrive at its destination at the scheduled arrival time.

“If a scheduled sailing is cancelled or substantially delayed due to mechanical issues then, as far as we’re concerned, the operator has failed to provide reasonable care and skill or a service that is fit for purpose.”

When the CGA has been breached, consumers will usually be entitled to remedies including damages for foreseeable consequential loss relating to that breach.

“Once people start having to fork out for accommodation and alternative travel arrangements, because of a cancellation or delay due to mechanical issues, we think the disrupted passengers are legally entitled to claim those costs back from the operator.”

Misleading information

Consumer has been advised that Interislander and Bluebridge are only offering ticket refunds or rescheduling affected passengers on alternative sailings.

“The operators are pointing to their terms and conditions which state they are not liable to consumers for costs beyond ticket refunds.

“It appears both operators are attempting to contract out of the CGA.

“We consider this to be a breach of the Fair Trading Act.

“As a result of this misleading behaviour, disrupted passengers are being left out of pocket. In our view, they’re legally entitled to claim these costs back.”

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