General Problems

If you have an issue

If you are unhappy with a product or service you have purchased, the first step is to approach the store/service provider to discuss it with them. It may be useful to think about the following before you do so:

Know what the outcome is that you want

Think about what’s important to you and what you want to achieve. For example, do you want an apology, a refund, a replacement? Or would you like them to provide the service again, this time meeting agreed standards? The more specific you are the more likely it is that you’ll get the outcome you want.

Prepare for the discussion

  • Find out about your legal rights
  • Write down exactly what your complaint is, including details such as dates and times.
  • Gather together any relevant paperwork, eg advertisement that misled you,or a quote that the trader gave you.

Talk to the person directly

  • Identify the person you need to talk to – this person needs to have the ability to resolve the problem.
  • Take a friend or family member with you for support if you think this would be useful.
  • Calmly explain the problem and provide any evidence you may have (make sure you keep copies for yourself).
  • Listen to their response and ask for some time to consider it if you need this.

Consider their response

  • Does the response resolve your issue or is it a reasonable compromise?
  • Do you want to take the time and effort to carry on if the response is unsatisfactory?
  • Based on what you know of your rights, do you think you have a solid basis to take the matter further?

Making a complaint

If the approach outlined above doesn’t work, you may wish to consider making a formal complaint. To do this:

Find out what the organisation’s complaint process is and follow this.

Have a look on their website or on any documentation they have given you.

If they don’t provide information about their complaint process, write a letter to them.

Your letter should include:

    • What the problem is, with details (i.e., what happened, when, where, etc.).
    • Be as factual as possible.
    • What you want done to fix the problem.
    • When you want a reply by.

Keep a copy of the complaint and only send photocopies of evidence.

Keep the originals so they don’t get lost.

Taking it further

If making a complaint hasn’t resolved the problem, what you can do next depends on the type of problem.

There are a number of different processes that can be used to resolve disputes. These range from negotiation or mediation through to tribunals and court. In some situations you may be able to decide for yourself which process to use, and in others there may be an organisation that sets out the dispute resolution steps you need to follow.

For consumer complaints, up to $15,000 (or up to $20,000 if the parties agree) the Disputes Tribunal or the Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal for vehicle disputes may help you and the trader reach an agreement or may make a decision about what is fair.

For disputes that involve claims over $15,000 there is the option of going directly to the District Court.  

Other organisations that you can take an unresolved complaint to include government agencies like the Commerce Commission or traders’ associations, such as the Registered Master Builders Association of NZ Inc.

Each organisation will have its own remedies or outcomes. Some will focus on assessing whether the person or business being complained about was in breach of agreed standards and may recommend disciplinary action accordingly. When deciding whether to take your complaint further you should find out from the organisation what remedies are available in relation to your issue.

See Report or resolve a problem for the various options depending on what your complaint is about.

Involving the media

If you think that people could learn from your experience and you have tried everything else, you can try talking to the media. But the media may not be interested in your story. Also this could make things more complicated. So try other options first. 

Some general information about dispute resolution

If you are considering entering into a dispute resolution process here is some information about the most commonly used types of dispute resolution.

In a negotiation the parties work with each other directly (or through their representatives) to try to resolve the dispute.

Other dispute resolution processes involve a third party assisting the parties to resolve the dispute. Some of these processes, such as conciliation and mediation, are consensual, meaning the parties themselves, and not the third party, determine the resolution of the dispute. Others, such as arbitrationtribunals and the courts are determinative, meaning the third party decides the outcome.

A dispute resolution scheme may allow for more than one stage. This enables another type of dispute resolution to be tried if the first is not successful. For example, a dispute could move from direct, informal negotiations to more structured mediation and then to formal arbitration.