“One Door” Opens Through Citizens Advice Bureau

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Hon John Boscawen speech to the Citizens Advice Bureau New Zealand (CABNZ) National Forum; the Brentwood Hotel, Kemp Street, Kilbirnie, Wellington; Thursday, October 28 2010
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen and thank you, Kerry, for the introduction.  I’m very pleased and honoured to be here to talk to you today.

Honoured, because I have always felt a very special affinity to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.  My own mother, Beverley Wheeler, was a volunteer at your Papatoetoe Office in South Auckland for eight years from 1995 following her retirement.

She thoroughly enjoyed being able to help people with all sorts of problems for a half-day every Monday morning, and was able to bring to her volunteer role the skills and abilities she acquired as a former Human Resource Manager at South Auckland Health.

She continued her voluntary work at Papatoetoe for four years after she moved from the district because she so much enjoyed helping people and working with her co-worker Doug Funnell, a retired former principal of Remuera Intermediate.

Doug and my Mother were just two of the 2,600 volunteers I am told that the CAB currently has working for them.

Volunteers are a core part of New Zealand society.  They strengthen communities by building networks of trust, reciprocity, and shared values.  Many community and voluntary organisations – including the CAB – rely on volunteers’ goodwill and efforts.

In total CAB volunteers provide in excess of 600,000 hours work every year, the equivalent of over 300 full-time jobs.

To those of you who volunteer your time, knowledge, and skills, and to the fulltime paid support staff I thank you very sincerely on behalf of the Government for the major contribution that you make to New Zealand and your own communities. You do a fantastic job.

I know that these are exciting times for the Citizens Advice Bureau.  I see around me your new branding, and I’m especially taken with your new artwork.  I also want to congratulate you on your new website, which went live last month.  It is a very extensive resource that provides a wealth of information ranging from what to do if a tradesman does a bad job, to advice on which beaches you can walk your dog during summer.

Your leap into the digital age has been a massive undertaking in which you’ve all been involved.  As society moves increasingly into the digital world, it’s great to see that you have identified the need to make your information and services available to people online as well in person and by phone.

As such, your organisation remains accessible as people shift their activities more into the online realm and ensures you’re positioned to help young people who expect to be able to find information and assistance in cyberspace.

Another exciting development is your new ‘CabNet’ system – which combines an integrated national database of community directory information and legal information about people’s rights with an electronic system for entering client enquiries into the national system.  This allows you to identify enquiry trends and produce information that can be used in many positive ways – including strategic planning.

It must have been a huge task to familiarise everyone with the system, but the changeover has been smooth – proof that your intensive preparation was worth the effort and has paid off.

While mentioning these new developments, I also wish to acknowledge those who have worked with you in your digital journey.  Microsoft donated software licences worth around $5.5 million, while Westpac donated 600 computers and laptops to ensure you can make full use of your new systems. Datacom also went out of their way in pulling the project together.  This is a great example of private organisations working with the voluntary sector to give something back to the community.

I am pleased to have this public opportunity to acknowledge Microsoft, Westpac, and Datacom for their contribution because it has been key to supporting the contribution of your 2,600 volunteers and staff.  I hope these relationships continue to develop.

Of course, all the new and exciting technology doesn’t replace the frontline face-to-face or verbal interaction on which you are all experts.  Many people still prefer to interact with a ‘real person’ and will continue to seek face-to-face or verbal interaction for the foreseeable future.

I would now like to touch on a number of consumer issues and begin by saying that, as Minister of Consumer Affairs, I share some of your goals – particularly when it comes to ensuring consumers can transact with confidence in the marketplace, and making sure that both businesses and consumers know where to find help if things go awry.

It’s the ‘where to turn’ that can pose the biggest stumbling block for people seeking resolution to their problems.  A survey commissioned by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, to gauge consumers’ knowledge of consumer law and where to turn to for help returned a mixture of results – some positive, some less so.

For example: 80 percent of New Zealanders know there are laws that outline consumers’ rights, 53 percent can name at least one – the most well-known being Consumer Guarantees Act, followed by the Fair Trading Act – and over 75 percent are at least somewhat confident the law will protect them if they experience a problem.

You’ll also be pleased to know that the CAB was the most common answer given when respondents were asked name an organisation or service to approach for and advice regarding a consumer-related dispute.

But 16 percent of respondents couldn’t name any organisation or service – and this means there is still much work to do to ensure people know where to turn to for assistance or advice.

Here, however, is another obstacle: rather than having nowhere to go for assistance, consumers face a bewildering raft of organisations that offer some form of resolution of assistance.

Of the 200-plus professional and industry bodies in New Zealand, around half provide some type of mediation and disputes resolution.  Then there are around 20 statutory, Government and self-regulatory entities with disputes resolution and/or investigation and enforcement roles.  Then there’s a further layer of judicial bodies that includes the Disputes Tribunal, Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal, Tenancy Tribunal and the District Court.

Such a confusing array of bodies and organisations brings the risk that consumers – especially those who are unsure which law applies to their problem, and where and how to seek a resolution – will simply give up rather than persevere to resolve their complaint.

This is why we need a single portal where consumers can get information on where to direct their complaint and how to go about it.  This is the ‘One Door’ aspect of the ‘One Law, One Door’ programme initiated by my predecessor.

‘One Law’ – or the Consumer Law Reform review of seven pieces of consumer legislation – is currently in progress.  The objective is principle-based consumer law, and simplification and consolidation of the existing laws.  Submissions to the Consumer Law Reform discussion document are currently under consideration.

The ‘One Door’ part of the project refers to a simplified complaints apparatus consumers can use to work out ‘where to from here’ when a problem arises – rather than having to navigate their own way through a host of complaints or disputes tribunals, ombudsmen and so on.

The vision is that ‘One Door’ will not duplicate currently available services; will be visible, easy-to-use and have no significant cost barriers; will be able to handle a large volume of enquiries; will provide accurate and current information on a wide range of complaint types; and, ideally, will offer an integrated service with a range of ways to access the service.

Many of you may note that the vision for ‘One Door’ is very similar to the development work that you yourselves have undertaken and celebrate here today, with your new website, cabnet, an integrated database, enhanced free-phone service, and so on.

In fact, the path that you yourselves have chosen to take is so similar to the vision of ‘One Door’ that there really is no doubt that the Citizens Advice Bureau has, in fact, become that One Door for consumers.  

Yours is a well-known brand, a familiar presence in the community, with aims to deliver the type of service that was envisaged for ‘One Door’.  You have all the bases covered in order to provide the level of advocacy your clients need – which again fits the One Door ethos.  So I would like to take this opportunity to formally acknowledge the Citizens Advice Bureau’s place as the One Door for New Zealanders.

It is for this reason that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs – which made a significant funding contribution to the CAB at the start of your digital journey – will continue to work closely with you.  Although there is no additional funding available for this status of One Door, the continuing support from the Ministry includes the ongoing provision of training, resources and a freephone number to the Consumer Affairs contact centre.  The Ministry will continue to promote the CAB in recognition of your work to make it easier for consumers to resolve their problems.

I would like to conclude by congratulating you all once again on the fantastic work that each and every one of you has done and continues to do.  My Ministry and I look forward to being a part of your continuing journey.

Please enjoy the rest of your Forum and thank you for your time here today.