We’re asking you to do something none of us enjoy. But hey, it’s not as bad as asking you to go cold turkey on a root canal!

What we’d like is for you to have a look at some of the contracts you’ve recently signed – say a gym contract, a rental car agreement, your electricity or telco agreement or your pay TV contract. What we’re wanting to find is any “unfair terms”. What are they?

These are conditions you have signed up to that may allow a company to unilaterally:

  • Cancel or renew the contract
  • Vary the terms or the goods or services supplied
  • Vary the price without a right for you to end the contract
  • Avoid or limit performance
  • Penalise you for breaching or cancelling
  • Determine whether the contract has been breached.

You might spot others you think are unfair and we’d like to hear about them too.

From 17 March “unfair terms” in standard-form contracts were banned. Standard-form contracts are the sort we as consumers regularly sign with little to no chance of negotiating terms. So banning unfair terms is good news.

There are a couple of flaws in the new law – it is only the Commerce Commission that can take action against companies for unfair contract terms and at this stage insurance contracts are mostly exempt. However, what we’ve got is a start.

What will make it worthwhile is if consumers cast their eyes over these standard-form contracts and try to spot any unfair terms. If you do, we’d like to help.

We’ve launched our “Play Fair” campaign to make sure companies are put on alert about unfair terms. Recently we found a term in a contract with Accor Vacation Club which meant the unwitting consumer had signed on until 2080. The company had the right to vary any of the entitlements; the consumer had no right to cancel. Death was no get-out-of-jail-free card; the company could pursue the consumer’s estate for outstanding fees.

If you find what you think is an unfair contract term, we’d like to hear about it – so would other consumers. Let us know and we’ll help you take action. And follow the campaign at www.consumer.org.nz/playfair

About the author:

Sue Chetwin has been our Chief Executive since April 2007 after more than 25 years in print journalism. She was formerly the Editor of Sunday News, Sunday Star Times and the Herald on Sunday. She says there are strong parallels between consumer advocacy and journalism.

Sue oversees all of Consumer’s operations and is also the public face of the organisation. Sue is a director of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme, an alternate on the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission and a member of the Electricity Authority Retail Advisory group.