Heather Roy

9 November 2017

When Mike Hosking recently said the BSA and Advertising Standards Authority should be dis-established, it made me ask myself the question about whether kiwis are complainers. I think not, but he disagrees, saying: “ …  there are always complaints.  Give it a name and a PO Box and there will be no shortage of people with clearly very little to do with their lives that will fill the old in tray with time-wasting nonsense”.

His cynical comment prompted me to search my archives and I came across this speech I gave (as Minister of Consumer Affairs) in 2010 when I launched Compaintline. I’m pleased to say that it still exists to help those who want to complain about goods or services they don’t think are up to scratch but are not sure where to start.

We should feel free to complain when we believe that something isn’t as it should be. It is the market working. People provide goods and services for sale, and consumers pay the price they think the product is worth. If it isn’t of a suitable quality consumers should be able to seek redress. We shouldn’t have to put up with shonky goods and services that are not fit for purpose. By doing so we merely reward poor behaviour.

Here is the speech I gave:

Helping Consumers Resolve Complaints And Disputes

Hon Heather Roy speech to launch Complaintline; Grand Hall, Parliament; Wednesday, March 17 2010.

It is a pleasure to be here today to launch Complaintline, set up by the Disputes Investigation Group.

There is something in the Kiwi psyche that makes us reluctant to complain, even when it is justified to do so.  Sometimes we are just unsure about how to go about making a complaint.

There are many organisations and agencies set up to deal with specific types of complaints, but it’s not always easy for individuals to find the right one to help with their particular issue.

I received an email recently demonstrating this very point.  It read:

“Dear Minister, I have a complaint about banking practises.  I began by contacting the bank involved, with no success.  Then I approached the Banking Ombudsman, who suggested the Reserve Bank, who directed me to the Commerce Commission when I should have brought this to you, as Consumers Affairs Minister, first!”

This correspondent is not alone in this type of merry-go-round.

With Complaintline, New Zealanders can now find the right organisation or person to complain to and get their problem sorted.

The ability to make a complaint is a very important part of making sure our markets and laws are effective.  If complaints are not aired and resolved, then poor practices will continue to occur and businesses won’t be challenged to ‘get it right’.  I’d like it to be easier for people to find the appropriate organisation to help them when they feel a transaction hasn’t gone the way it should have.

With that, I offer my thanks to the group of disputes resolution and investigation agencies – the Disputes Investigation Group – which has established and developed this very useful resource.  This group, which meets regularly, identified a need for people to be able to easily find the appropriate agency to help them and realised there was something they could do.  They have created this gateway website – Complaintline (www.complaintline.org.nz) – as a source of quickly locatable and relevant information.

While some consumers are confident enough to negotiate the complaint process themselves, many are confused about their options and a significant number decide not to bother trying to resolve their problem.  They give up because it’s all too hard.

Complaintline is simple and easy to use.  Consumers can search by organisation or by category of complaint.  This means they don’t need to know the name of the organisation that can help them before they start a search.

Every entry contains a brief explanation of the organisation’s role and a link to their website.  From there the consumer is able to contact the organisation to find out more about what they need to do to lodge a complaint.

When people don’t know who can help them with a particular complaint they often spend time going from one agency to another before finding the correct organisation to help them.  Complaintline provides a tool so that individuals can be quickly directed to the right agency.  The site is a great resource for staff and volunteers in our agencies and community organisations to refer to when helping their clients.

We often talk of the importance of consumer confidence in markets.  I believe this situation exists when consumers have access to enough information to make their purchase decision, and when there are suitable remedies available if things go wrong.

The 2009 National Consumer Survey (http://www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz/consumersurvey-2009.pdf) showed that New Zealanders in general have a fairly good understanding of their consumer rights.  In particular: consumers know they are entitled to have faulty goods repaired, replaced or refunded.  Two-thirds of the 1,000 New Zealanders interviewed could name at least one piece of consumer legislation.

The survey also indicated that confidence in New Zealand law amongst consumers is strong.  Most believe that current law will protect them if problems with transactions arise.

Good legislation is clear, enforceable, and is routinely enforced.  The ability for people to make a complaint and get a remedy when appropriate is an important aspect of this.

Simplicity is the key to effective market activity.  Last year I asked my Ministry staff to explore how to simplify consumer laws and remedies, an exercise which I have called ‘One Law – One Door’.

The ‘One Law’ refers to my goal of reviewing current consumer law in order to modernise and create less, more principle-based consumer-supplier legislation. ‘One Door’ refers to my goal for there to be one place – a single portal – where consumers can explain their problem and get information on where to direct their complaint and how, so that it can be resolved promptly.

Complaintline is a complementary and welcome addition to the range of resources available for consumers needing to access advice, and sits well alongside my plans for “One Door”.

So it just leaves me to say thank you to all the organisations here today to support Complaintline and help New Zealanders have their complaints heard and their transaction problems resolved.  I look forward to hearing of Complaintline’s success.