Minister Criticises Telecom Over Phone Cards

  • Peter McCardle
Consumer Affairs

Consumer Affairs Minister Peter McCardle said today he is very disappointed that, despite recent lengthy discussions, Telecom is still refusing to reimburse customers or replace unused phone cards when it introduces its new payphones later this year.

"Telecom has made it clear it will push ahead with its strategy of refusing to replace cards or reimburse for unused portions, and will encourage early use, backed up by other discount deals," Mr McCardle said.

"While the company has said it is willing to address individual issues where someone is "inappropriately disadvantaged", that is apparently only on a last-resort, exception basis.

" This is unacceptable. Customers should not be forced to use other Telecom services to save Telecom the cost of meeting reasonable consumer expectations, " the Minister said.

"The bottom line is that Telecom has taken money from the public for a service they will not be able to access. Customers should be free to spend their money when and where they want to, and should not be pushed into using their pre-paid cards for services they do not really want.

"The matter does not appear to be a consumer law issue and the contractual issue is unclear. However there is soon to be a case heard in the High Court which will explore the issues involved. That is timely and appropriate. My views are based on the moral obligations Telecom faces, and on reasonable consumer expectations.

"There are large numbers of New Zealand card holders who will end up disadvantaged if Telecom does not change its stance. Many disappointed people who have purchased phone cards are now being told to use them up.

"I believe the company has a moral responsibility to compensate customers who are being caught out. Telstra in Australia has compensated its customers when making similar changes, and provided replacement cards. Telstra recognised its responsibilities - why can't Telecom?

"New Zealand consumers are not impressed and I urge the company to think again," Mr McCardle concluded.