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Opinion: Knowing your rights is key
25 May 2017

Opinion: Knowing your rights is key

Many consumers don’t know how to resolve issues.

I met a great bunch of women this week. They were enjoying the fellowship of belonging to the organisation, Inner Wheel. I was paying for my supper by being their guest speaker. Over dinner, one woman spoke of her distaste at the huge number of Easter eggs her granddaughter had received. So she took action. She left a couple of favourite eggs with her granddaughter, scooped up the rest, drove to a less well-endowed end of town and hand-delivered them to kids who had received no Easter eggs.

Her confidence in her ability to take action puts her ahead of many others. A recent consumer survey showed nearly a third of those who had a problem with a faulty product or service took no action. The main reasons were because they weren’t sure what to do or didn’t feel confident they could resolve the issue.

The result mirrors the questions I received that night. It’s all very well to know you have rights but what happens when the retailer doesn’t agree or fobs you off with excuses? What happens next? One woman had bought an expensive flea collar for her cat from her vet. The collar was meant to last 8 months but failed much earlier. She thought she needed to go to the manufacturer. She didn’t, it was the vet she had the relationship with. But if he said no to a replacement, repair, or refund, then her next step was the Disputes Tribunal.

Consumer law is self-policing, in that the consumer can assert their rights, but if they get pushback, it’s up to the individual to take action. No police officer is there to help. That said, if there is misleading or deceptive behaviour, the regulator might step in. Last week, the Commerce Commission (New Zealand’s consumer police) won its case against a company selling bee pollen supposedly produced here, but in fact produced and processed in China. Topline International, which manufactures the NatureBee products, was fined more than $500,000.

Earlier this month, the commission warned retailers about “sales” practices. We’ve been concerned for a while many big-box retailers have items that are nearly always on sale. While everyone loves a bargain, our concern is these so-called sales are nothing more than products being sold at their normal price. Consumers are being duped into thinking otherwise. We’ll continue to watch this and let the commission know of our findings.

One neat outcome of the survey (done by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment consumer protection division) was how well our own organisation rated in consumer awareness. The Citizens Advice Bureau was the most well-known (and what great work it does), we came in behind at 89% awareness.

But there’s still plenty to be doing. Knowledge of agencies that can help when something goes wrong was generally poor – particularly industry-based disputes resolution services.

I’m hoping one dispute has been resolved – granddaughter accepted grandma’s unilateral Easter action as being best for everyone!

By Sue Chetwin

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