Shopping during the lockdown: Your questions answered
Your consumer rights questions answered.
We answer your questions about shopping and your consumer rights during the Covid-19 lockdown.
I made a purchase from an online store but it now says it doesn’t have the item in stock so I’ll have to wait for delivery. Can it do this?
Retailers can’t advertise goods they don’t have unless they make it clear up front the product isn’t currently in stock. If the retailer took your order but failed to tell you the item wasn’t available, you can cancel and get a refund. And if the store never intended supplying the item at all, this would be bait advertising, which is illegal.
You can choose to wait for the item. However, be aware that if the retailer gets into financial difficulty and stops trading, you may not get your money back or the goods you ordered.
I bought a laptop online and was told it would be delivered in five days. But the retailer now says there’s been a delay and I’ll have to wait longer. Can I cancel?
Retailers need to ensure goods are delivered within the time agreed or within a reasonable time if no time has been stated. If your purchase doesn’t arrive when promised, you can cancel and get a refund.
Before you place an order, it’s worth checking with the retailer whether the item is in the country and if delivery time frames will be met. If goods are coming from overseas, it may take longer than usual due to Covid-19 lockdowns in other countries.
I’ve cancelled the order but the store will only offer me store credit. Do I have to accept this?
No. Your refund should be a cash refund, not store credit. The only exception would be if you used store credit to pay for the purchase.
We paid a deposit to have a heat pump installed but the work had to be delayed because of the lockdown. The installer can’t give me a new date. Can I ask for a refund?
As a general rule, a service provider must provide the services at the agreed time to avoid a breach of contract. However, the Covid-19 lockdown means work such as this will need to be postponed. You can agree on an alternative date or, if that isn’t acceptable to you, request a refund.
Some companies include clauses in their contracts that excuse them from performing work due to an event outside their control (such as a pandemic). However, even if this clause is included, cancellation terms must still be fair or the company risks breaching the Fair Trading Act. The act bans unfair terms in consumer contracts.
We paid a 50% deposit for a wedding venue. The wedding can’t go ahead due to the Covid-19 lockdown and the venue wants to keep the deposit. Is this right?
A company trying to do this is on shaky ground. Like other companies, it needs to ensure its terms and conditions – including its cancellation terms – are fair. We think a clause that allowed it to keep your deposit in this situation would be unfair and a breach of the Fair Trading Act.
It may also be a case of a “frustrated contract” – a legal term that describes situations where a contract can’t be fulfilled due to circumstances outside the control of either party. As a result of the lockdown, the venue can’t hire out its premises, and you and your guests can’t travel to the wedding. When a contract is frustrated, you’re entitled to ask for a refund.
A bottle of hand sanitiser that used to cost $5 is now selling for $50. Can retailers hike prices like this?
Unfortunately, there’s nothing stopping stores doing this. Retailers can set their own prices and price-gouging isn’t illegal (though we think it should be).
However, it is illegal for a retailer to mislead you about the reason prices have risen. A retailer that does so risks breaching the Fair Trading Act and a fine of up to $600,000.
So there’s nothing I can do if I see retailers charging sky-high prices?
If you think a retailer is using the Covid-19 lockdown as an excuse to raise prices and make extra money, let us know – firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll look into complaints.
What about supermarkets? Are there different rules for them?
No, but we think there needs to be much better scrutiny of supermarkets.
Our supermarket trade is one of the most concentrated in the world, dominated by two big chains: Countdown and Foodstuffs (which owns the New World and Pak’nSave brands). With the Covid-19 lockdown, supermarkets are one of the few places consumers can buy groceries. We’d like to see regular monitoring of stores’ prices to ensure they’re playing fair.
Memberships and services
Can my gym keep charging me during the lockdown?
No. Your gym shouldn’t charge you membership fees when it can’t provide the service. Fees should be put on hold for the duration of the lockdown.
If you check your bank statement and find fees have been deducted, you can request a refund.
If you've paid your membership in advance, it should be extended by the number of weeks of the lockdown. Alternatively, you can ask for a refund for the period the gym has been closed.
What about my child's day care centre? Can it keep charging me during the lockdown?
No. An early childhood education centre shouldn’t charge you for services it’s unable to provide during the lockdown. Fees should be suspended for the duration of the lockdown.
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