Working Together For New Zealand Communities

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hon John Boscawen speech to launch Consumer Rights Day; Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures, Norrie Street, Porirua; Tuesday, November 30 2010.


Good morning ladies and gentlemen, it’s great to be here.  I’d like to begin by extending a warm welcome to everyone who was made the effort to be here today – it’s great to see how many agencies are represented here today to demonstrate what they can do for the community.


I’m very pleased to be here today to formally open this Consumer Rights Day.  In fact, I believe this to be such a worthwhile event that I have encouraged the Ministry of Consumer Affairs to consider holding more days like this around the country.


The Ministry of Consumer Affairs aims to ensure that consumers can have confidence in the marketplace, and my Ministry appreciates the support and networks you provide in your communities.


In order to have confidence in the marketplace, consumers need to be able to access enough quality information to enable them to make the decisions that are right for them.  They also need to know that there are ways to resolve any disputes they might have should a problem arise.


I’m pleased to say that we’re not doing too badly on that front.  Last year’s National Consumer Survey found that New Zealanders generally have a fairly good understanding of their consumer rights and that many are aware of their right to have faulty goods repaired, replaced or refunded. 


The was commissioned by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and also indicated a generally strong level of consumer confidence throughout New Zealand – with most consumers believing that the current law will protect them if they encounter a problem with a transaction.


That same survey, however, also showed that 16 percent of respondents couldn’t name a single organisation or service that could help them when things went wrong.  Clearly, there is still work to do if we are to ensure that people know where to turn for assistance or advice.


It is on these people that I want to focus; the people who don’t get their problems resolved for the simple reason that they’re either unaware of the protections exist for them, or they don’t know where to turn to for help.


In fact, it is the latter – the knowing where to turn for assistance – that can prove the biggest stumbling block for people trying to get their problem sorted.


Around the room today I see representatives from agencies and organisations that listen to consumers and help them with their complaints.  Even better, many of these services are free for the consumer.


But there are around 20 statutory, Government and self-regulatory entities that have disputes resolution and/or investigation and enforcement roles – and it isn’t always easy for people to find the one that is suitable for their specific complaint.


Not only that, but having to explain their complaint or understand the process they must follow, can be very daunting for consumers.  After all, while some people are confident enough to negotiate the process themselves, there are others who need support to get their complaint and heard.


These are the people who often fall through the gaps, and that’s why the role of community groups and agencies are so vital – you fill the gaps by guiding people through the processes and procedures, encouraging them to get their evidence together, so they can get their problem solved.


As you do this important work, the Government is working to make our consumer laws easier to use and understand.  Seven consumer laws are currently being reviewed – the objective being to have principles-based consumer law, and simplification and consolidation of existing laws.


The Ministry of Consumer Affairs released a discussion document on Consumer Law Reform earlier this year.  Submissions on this document are currently being considered with the aim of ensuring the law is relevant today and will continue to be relevant into the future.


We are also making progress on the review of the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act (CCCFA).  This looks at addressing issues around hardship, fees, unsolicited credit, disclosure, repossession and pawn-broking.


From tomorrow, new laws for financial service providers mean there are dispute resolution schemes that people can go to if they have a problem with creditors and other financial service providers.


But making sure that consumer laws are effective, and that complaints processes work properly, means little if consumers do not first know about them or understand how to use them properly – because complaints can’t be investigated or dealt with if they don’t reach the right people or agency.


The Government wants to make it easier for consumers to complain, and to find the appropriate avenue and organisation to help them.  But we also admit that it can sometimes be difficult to reach every person who is in need of help.


And that’s what Consumer Rights Day is all about – it’s about Government working with community groups and agencies to help consumers to know their rights and where to turn if things go wrong.


We here in this room have a common goal: to ensure that consumers are able to find out about the rights that protect them, and the services and channels they can use to solve a problem.  We all want to create and empower confident consumers in New Zealand.


I have no doubt that, together, we can achieve that goal.  I’d like to thank all the agencies here for their ongoing supporting, and for the fantastic work you have done and continue to do.  My staff and I look forward to working with you all in the future so that, together, we can help your communities.


Thank you.