Published Via Stuff website 30/04/2024

There are few things more frustrating as a consumer than having an appliance give up the ghost right after its warranty expires. Except maybe having lost the receipt for said appliance. Or having the retailer refuse to put things right. But there’s good news if you find yourself in one ‒ or a succession of ‒ those situations: You’re probably still covered. 

This month marks 30 years since the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) began protecting Kiwis from unscrupulous businesses. But despite how long it’s been around, understanding of the act and its protections is still limited. Here’s what you need to know to make sure you get a fair deal: 

Myth: If the product I bought is out of warranty, I’m out of luck

Nope. The CGA gives you the right to seek a remedy, such as repair or replacement for a faulty product, whether the product is covered by a manufacturer’s warranty or not.

“If you’ve bought a new washing machine that comes with a two-year warranty, and one week after the warranty expired, the gearbox seizes up, you should still have redress under the CGA,” Gemma Rasmussen, Consumer NZ head of advocacy and research, said. That’s because the CGA says retailers and suppliers must guarantee goods will be of acceptable quality and “a new washing machine shouldn’t have a major breakdown after just two years,” Rasmussen said. 

Myth: I need a receipt to return a product

Although it makes sense that a retailer would expect proof of purchase before agreeing to help with an issue, a physical receipt isn’t the only way to prove you bought something from a particular store. This is 2024, after all. 

“These days, many stores opt to send digital receipts. You may have an account with that store showing your purchase history,” Rasmussen said. “And then there's always your bank statement, which can help the retailer find the transaction at their end.”

Myth: The store can choose whether to repair, replace or refund

Not always. In cases where a product has a major fault – one that would have put you off buying the product if you’d known about the problem – it's up to you whether you ask for a repair, replacement or refund. If a product has a minor fault, it’s up to the retailer to decide. 

Myth: I can get a refund if I change my mind

Sorry, but no. You don't have the right to return goods simply because you've changed your mind.

For example, say you bought a smartphone, but: 

  • your partner bought you one as a surprise on the same day – can you take one of them back?
  • it’s green and you really wanted a pink one – can you swap?
  • the same phone is $100 cheaper in the shop next door – can you get a refund?

The answer to all these questions is no, Rasmussen said. “The retailer is under no legal obligation to give you your money back or exchange the product. However, some retailers will do so in the interests of good customer service, so it's worth asking.” 

Myth: I must have the original packaging to return an item

“Sellers can’t ‘contract out’ of their obligations under the CGA by saying something like ‘we reserve the right to decline a refund if the item is not returned in its original packaging,’” Rasmussen said. “If the battery on your new stick vac has died after only a year of regular use, you’re not ‘outta luck’ just because you didn’t hold onto the original box.” 

Myth: I have rights under the CGA, no matter who I’ve purchased something from

Unfortunately not ‒ the protections provided under the CGA don’t generally cover private sales.

“Most of the protections in the act only apply if you buy goods or services from sellers that are ‘in trade,’” Rasmussen said. “That TV you just bought from a garage sale, or the car you’re eyeing up on Facebook Marketplace listed by Joe Bloggs is considered a private sale, so you won’t usually be protected by the CGA.”

However, you could still have some limited rights against a product’s manufacturer under the act. There are also some limited protections against misrepresentations in the Contract and Commercial Law Act, which could help you take a case to the Disputes Tribunal.

Myth: If the retailer refuses to help, there’s nothing I can do

If you just can't reach a resolution, consider taking a case to the Disputes Tribunal, which deals with disputes up to $30,000. Lodging a claim costs between $45 and $180, depending on the size of your claim, and you can claim against a trader or individuals.

“We’ve heard plenty of stories about businesses coming to the party once a claim is lodged with the Disputes Tribunal,” Rasmussen said. “Just the act of lodging a claim could get you the result you want.”

Myth: I need to buy an extended warranty if I want cover beyond the manufacturer’s warranty

Rasmussen says no, don’t waste your money. “You’d probably be paying for protection you already have under consumer law, your home and contents insurance, or the manufacturer’s warranty. “In some cases, the extended warranty offers less cover than you have under the law. Don’t buy it.”

Myth: Any additional costs (that resulted from the problem) are on me

In addition to your rights under the CGA, you might be able to claim for “reasonably foreseeable” losses that result from the initial problem. “If your new washing machine won’t work properly, you can claim for laundry costs or the cost of hiring a replacement machine while the first one is being fixed. “If you have to send goods back to be repaired, you don’t have to pay for those costs.”

There is one caveat ‒ the compensation must put you back in the position you would have been in if the goods or service hadn’t been faulty.

Myth: I’m not covered because it was a gift

If you’re gifted something, you have the same rights as if you bought it yourself,” Rasmussen said. “If you received a dress for your birthday but the stitching comes apart after a couple of wears – go back to the retailer and ask them to put it right.”

Myth: The customer is always right

The old adage is just that – old, Rasmussen said. “Thinking that you’re in the right just because you’re a paying customer isn’t the best attitude to have. “There’s a difference between being right and having rights. Get to know your consumer rights, and you’ll find just how empowering it is to stand up for yourself when you need to.