How to work out whether you have a case to make a complaint about a product or service you're unhappy with.
Working out whether you can complain isn't always straightforward.
In general, you have cause to complain if:
- something you’ve bought doesn’t work
- a service hasn't achieved the result that was agreed
- something hasn't been delivered on time
- you've been misled by a salesperson or an ad.
To be confident you have a case, consider the questions below.
Are your expectations reasonable?
Products and services must deliver to reasonable standards. If you're unhappy with the cost or standard of a product or service, ask yourself whether your expectations of it would generally be considered reasonable.
For example, if you buy a new computer that has a manufacturer's warranty for one year, it would be reasonable to expect that the computer would keep working longer than one year. If it broke down after eight years, it might be less reasonable to expect it to be repaired or replaced.
Repair damage after normal use
Always read care and safety instructions carefully. If you haven’t followed instructions you may not be able return it if things go wrong.
Can you prove the purchase details?
It helps to have relevant records and documentation to show there is an issue, how it relates to the business you're complaining to, and the timeframe from purchase to the issue occurring.
Examples of what can support your case include:
- receipts, sales dockets or invoices
- hire purchase or layby agreements
- details of any official conversations you've had about it – when, where and who with
- bank statements.
Have you used it in the intended way?
Products and services must be fit for a particular or special purpose that:
- you asked the trader about, and/or
- they told you it was suitable for.
If you're having a problem because you want to use the product or service for something other than what it was intended for — or you're not using it the way it was intended — you might not be covered.
Do consumer laws cover you?
Laws protect you as a consumer when you're buying, trading or sharing information with sellers and businesses in New Zealand, including:
- Consumer Guarantees Act — covers issues with products or services you've paid for
- Fair Trading Act — makes it illegal for sellers to misrepresent their products or services
- Privacy Act — makes sure your personal information is kept safe and secure
- Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act — protects you when you borrow money or buy products or services on credit.
Before you complain, it's a good idea to check if the law supports you. If you can state which of your rights has been breached, you'll have a better chance of getting a good resolution.
If you have bought something privately or second-hand, you are not covered by the same laws as when you buy something new.
Example — Out of warranty
When Lisa's home laptop stopped working after 18 months, she contacted the retailer. She was told it was no longer under warranty so she'd have to pay to get it fixed. She felt this was unfair as such an expensive item should work for longer than 18 months. She looked up her rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act, which said items should be expected to work correctly for a reasonable length of time. She prepared her complaint and went back to the retailer, stating why she believed her rights had been breached. They accepted her complaint and arranged for the laptop to be fixed free of charge.
Get support at any point from:
- Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) — a free, independent service, run by volunteers. CAB can advise you on your consumer rights and obligations, in person, by phone, or online.
- Community Law Centre — offers free one-on-one legal advice to people with limited finances. The organisation has 24 community law centres throughout the country. You can find legal information and other resources on its website.
- MoneyTalks — gives free budgeting advice to individuals, family and whānau. Financial mentors can help you understand your financial situation, organise your debt and plan for the future. They can also put you in touch with a local budgeting service and help you address issues you're having with lenders. Contact them on 0800 345 123. Or by live chat, email or text, if you prefer.
Find a CAB(external link) — Citizens Advice Bureau
Our law centres(external link) — Community Law Centres
Contact information(external link) — MoneyTalks