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COVID-19: The Auckland region is at Alert Level 4. The rest of New Zealand is at Alert Level 2. Find information about consumer impacts during COVID-19 alert levels.

Consumer information during the current COVID-19 alert levels in New Zealand. This includes how businesses can interact with consumers, access to goods and services, financial difficulties and cancellation of travel, accommodation and events.

For general information on COVID-19, visit the government's COVID-19 website:

Unite against COVID-19(external link)

Price increases – PriceWatch

It is not illegal for businesses to increase their prices, however, the Fair Trading Act prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct and false representations. This means that if a business gives a reason for a price increase it must be true, otherwise the business risks breaching the law.

While businesses are free to set their own prices, there has been some public concern about price increases on essential goods and services services during the different alert levels linked to COVID-19.

If you feel you’re being asked to pay too much for goods or services:

  • Speak politely with the retailer. Ask the reason for the price increase. Check it isn’t a mistake.
  • Remember that fresh produce prices may be affected by crop availability and season, or that there may be high demand for certain products.
  • There may also be additional costs associated with providing goods and services during the response to COVID-19, such as costs for decontamination or the use of special PPE (personal protective equipment). 
  • Businesses themselves may be experiencing price increases or delays in their supply chains. 

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is interested in hearing from consumers if you have concerns about price increases on essential goods and services during the different alert levels.

Report a price increase(external link) — Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

If you suspect a business is providing false or misleading information as to why prices have increased, you can make a complaint to the Commerce Commission on their website: 

Make a complaint(external link)  — Commerce Commission

Information for businesses


Buying products and shopping online

Some business operations may be restricted by the alert levels.

At Alert Level 4 only certain business can open to the public at this time. Businesses providing necessities, such as supermarkets, dairies, pharmacies and petrol stations can operate under Alert Level 4. 

At Alert Level 3 business can operate, but with restrictions. This includes physical distancing, having extra hygiene measures and contactless options for ordering, pick-up, delivery and payment.

The Unite Against COVID-19 website provides a list of the types of businesses able to operate at different levels and guidelines for shopping safely.

Doing business under COVID-19 alert levels(external link)  — Unite against COVID-19

Shopping and services under COVID-19 alert levels(external link)  — Unite against COVID-19

With businesses under additional pressure due to COVID-19 you may encounter service and supply problems. Shortages of day-to-day items and delays in delivery are commonplace and we encourage patience while businesses adjust to unexpected circumstances.

Retailers may place limits on essential items to ensure they are able to supply to all their customers. If your household needs more than the stated limit, we suggest you ask to speak to the store manager and make your case. Consumers can help by only buying the quantity they need and ordering in advance where possible.

Information on your rights and how to resolve general consumer issues and problems:

Common consumer issues

Shopping online

Shopping online is a useful option for purchasing items while physical contact is restricted. 

However, you may encounter delays when purchasing non-essential items online at this time. Keep in mind that although businesses may promote and accept payment of non-essential items online, their operations are restricted.

Supplies and deliveries of some items may be delayed for some time. If an expected delivery date is not provided it makes sense to seek one before completing your order.

Information on your rights and shopping safely online: 

Online shopping

If you are concerned about price increases on essential goods and services during this alert level, you can report it to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Report a price increase(external link) — Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment


Changes or suspension to service

Due to physical restrictions at some alert levels, certain businesses such as gyms and clubs will be unable to provide service or may offer to change delivery of the service, for example, to online instead of in-person. If you do not wish to continue in the changed state, contact the business to discuss cancelling or suspension. You may be able to freeze your membership or ask for a part refund. Check your membership contract terms and refer to their website for details.

In some situations, businesses do not have to give refunds or other remedies:

'Frustrated contract' v 'force majeure'


Travel and accommodation

At Alert Level 3 and 4, there are restrictions on travel. 

Permitted travel at Alert Level 3 and 4(external link) — Unite against COVID-19

If your travel plans have been affected, get in touch with the provider to see what options are available. As COVID-19 is a major unexpected event, usual services may not be possible.

Remedies available under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) may be limited at this time. Businesses still need to meet their obligations under the Consumer Guarantees Act, but it may be reasonable for a refund to take longer to process under this alert level. 

If your travel involves bookings, follow health and safety instructions from the transport operator. Do not travel if you are required to self-isolate, quarantine or have COVID-19 symptoms. Border restrictions remain in place and international travel is still limited. 

Leaving New Zealand(external link) — Unite against COVID-19 

For travel restriction information at the current alert level:

Current Alert Level(external link) — Unite against COVID-19

Cancellations

For bookings affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, your rights to cancellation will be determined by the terms and conditions of the ticket or booking.

If you booked directly with an airline, ferry company or other travel provider, start by checking for emails about cancellations and your options. Also look on their website. Most travel businesses and accommodation providers have information about COVID-19 cancellations on their homepage.

If you phone, expect a wait before your call is answered — businesses are getting many more calls than usual. If you booked through a travel agent or booking service, contact them about cancellations and your options. Remember to be sympathetic and consider their situation as well as your own.

When consumer rights may be limited

In some situations, businesses do not have to give refunds or other remedies:

'Frustrated contract' v 'force majeure'

If you want to cancel a future domestic booking for when travel may be possible, eg outside of a restricted period, check the businesses’ cancellation terms.

General information on your consumer rights:

Flights, cancellations and delays


Consumer Travel Reimbursement Scheme

On 8 September 2020, the government announced the Consumer Travel Reimbursement Scheme. The scheme supports travel agents and wholesalers to return refunds and credits owed to consumers, for cancelled bookings for overseas travel.

The scheme is designed to support New Zealand travel businesses to continue processing refunds and credits for international travel that was disrupted by COVID-19. It does not guarantee the successful return of any refunds owed to you.

The scheme will reimburse your travel agent for any refunds or credits that they successfully return to you. Consumers are not able to apply directly to the scheme. To activate refunds the first step is to contact your travel agent.

It is important to be patient, as it may take some time for your agent to retrieve your refund.

For customers of insolvent travel agents

If you have made a travel booking with a New Zealand-based travel agent that has since become insolvent, you are advised to contact travel suppliers directly about refunds or credits.

The travel itinerary prepared by your travel agent should list the names and contact details of your travel supplier. You can also contact your credit card company directly about refunding the money you have paid for your cancelled booking.

Gone out of business


Events, tour and venue bookings

Public events may be affected by different alert levels.

At Alert Level 4 public events, including family and social gatherings cannot go ahead. This includes parties, funerals and weddings.

The only gatherings allowed at Alert Level 3 are weddings, funerals and tangihanga, up to a maximum of 10 people.

Event restrictions under different alert levels(external link)  — Unite against COVID-19

Remedies available under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) may be limited during this alert level.

As the COVID-19 pandemic is a major unexpected event, businesses may not have to give refunds or other remedies. But they may choose to do so.

Many event organisers and ticket companies have already let customers know about their options, like refunds or new dates.

If you haven't heard — or want to check if the business can do what it has offered — take a look at the terms and conditions given to you when you booked.

Be patient. It’s good to understand what you’re entitled to. It’s also important to be patient as businesses adjust to this unexpected situation.

Event cancellations due to COVID-19

When consumer rights may be limited

In some situations, businesses do not have to give refunds or other remedies:

‘Frustrated contract’ v ‘force majeure'


Financial support

If your income has been affected by COVID-19 and you are finding it hard to pay your bills or loan payments, financial support is available.

Financial support(external link) — Unite against COVID-19

Loans and debt

If you have an existing loan, find out what you can do to make repaying more manageable. Contact your lender to:

  • explain your situation
  • ask about your options
  • understand the impact of any repayment changes.

For example, repayment deferral lets you delay making payments but interest will continue to be added to your loan. This means your loan will cost more and take longer to pay off in the long run. Keep repayment deferral as short as possible. Reducing loan payments or choosing to pay interest only may be better than putting them on hold.

It may take a while for you to get through to the lender, as banks and finance companies may be busier than usual. Banks and major lenders have information about COVID-19 on their websites.

Emergency no-interest loans

Good Shepherd New Zealand provides loans for people financially impacted by COVID-19 who need urgent help to:

  • pay bills, eg electricity
  • pay existing loan repayments
  • buy essential products or services — examples include to replace a broken fridge or pay for urgent home repairs.

These loans are only available to people with a Community Services Card, and who meet some other eligibility criteria. These loans can also be made available to people on work visas.

Good loans(external link) — Good Shepherd New Zealand

Power bills

If you are finding it hard to pay your bill, speak to your power company. You may be able to pay your bill in instalments to make payment easier. If you are worried about being disconnected talk to your power company, as some are offering more flexibility during this time.

If you receive payments from Work and Income, you may get the Winter Energy Payment. This is an extra payment to help with the cost of heating your home. Winter Energy Payments will be double this year in response to COVID-19.

If you qualify, it will be added to your regular payments — you don’t need to apply for it. It is paid from 1 May to 1 October.

Winter Energy Payment(external link) — Work and Income

 

Need help?
Try the MoneyTalks helpline. A free financial mentor can help with budgeting advice. They can also talk to your lender, eg about changing repayments.

Phone 0800 345 123 or use live chat, email or text.

MoneyTalks(external link)


'Frustrated contract' v 'force majeure'

During this time many businesses are offering refunds or other remedies, like free cancellation or credit for future use. However in some cases they may not have to.

Check your contract terms and conditions. Look for a section on 'force majeure' - if it’s in your contract, your consumer rights may be limited. A force majeure provision means that due to a major unexpected event, like an earthquake or pandemic, a business does not have to keep their side of the agreement. This means they don’t have to give refunds or other remedies - but they can still choose to. Remember to be sympathetic and consider their situation, as well as your own. You may wish to accept a credit for use at a later point.

In the unlikely event your contract does not allow for force majeure, it may still be considered a ‘frustrated contract’. In this situation you should have the right to a refund.

Contract and sales agreements