The 20 per cent rise in consumer complaints that the Commerce Commission received in the 2018-19 year, was driven almost entirely by issues related to the Fair Trading Act 1986, according to the government agency tasked with enforcing legislation that promotes competition and prohibits misconduct in New Zealand.
The Commission for the first time released a snapshot of the nearly 9000 complaints it received between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, to make the information more accessible to consumers.
“In our snapshot we illustrate through speech bubbles the main themes of the complaints we have received,” said Commission Chair Anna Rawlings.
“While these are not real quotes from consumers, they are indicative of the concerns that many consumers have raised with us.”
According to the Commission, complaints relating to matters covered by the Fair Trading Act 1986 went up by more than 1500 last year.
Telecommunications retail service providers generated the highest number of complaints under the Fair Trading Act at 727, up from the 2017-18 figure of 584.
Complaint themes included consumers saying they were charged fees they were not told about, their bills are often inaccurate, or they were signed up to contracts they did not agree to.
There were 585 complaints about online ticket selling, up nearly 63 per cent from 359 during 2016-17. Complaint themes included that headline prices did not match the final price, and that consumers felt pressured by countdown clocks or messages presented to them during the purchase process such as “limited seats”.
“The increase in complaints about online ticket reselling is led by the unprecedented number of complaints about Swiss company Viagogo,” said Rawlings.
“We are taking High Court proceedings against Viagogo and can’t comment further on that while the matter is before the Courts.”
Domestic appliance retailers were the subject of 469 complaints, up 78. Complaint themes included that consumers were told the Consumer Guarantees Act did not apply when they attempted to return a faulty product, or that they would have to pay for a repair because the manufacturer’s warranty had expired.
Complaints about irresponsible lending increased nearly 40 per cent to 116, with complainants alleging that lenders did not check if repayment was affordable, and that borrowers were offered more credit even though they were struggling to pay current debts.
Debt collection practices generated 124 complaints. Complaint themes included that consumers felt unfairly pursued or harassed by debt collectors to pay their debts.
Rawlings noted that complaints do not necessarily mean the law has been broken, and larger industries are likely to generate more complaints because they have many more customers.
The Commission uses complaint information in multiple ways, not only to prioritise investigations of what is causing the most harm to New Zealanders, but also to show where consumers and businesses need more information to understand or comply with the law.
“Complaints also inform the advice we give to policy makers, so our message to consumers is that we want to hear from them and we value what they tell us,” Rawlings said.
“We also hope the information is of assistance to businesses when they are assessing their own compliance.”