• Robyn McDonald
Consumer Affairs

The Minister of Consumer Affairs, Hon Robyn McDonald said that taking consumer advice into communities will ensure that people needing help in dealing with consumer related problems will have easier access to advice and information.

Mrs McDonald launched the Ministry of Consumer Affairs new community-based "Consumer Information Service", today at Parliament.

"Consumers need to know their rights under consumer law and this new service will mean that helpful information is more readily available to those who most need it by providing education, information and advice," said Robyn McDonald.

"The service will provide a greater regional focus through consumer support and liaison with community networks, and will aim to reach low income earners, Maori and Pacific Islanders in particular, so that these consumers can make more informed choices in the marketplace.

"The new community based service will mean that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs can work more closely with community agencies such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, Community Law Centres, and Budget Advice Services.

"The Ministry will provide these agencies with increased training, resources and a hotline to contact Consumer Affairs Ministry staff to discuss consumer inquiries," the Minister stated.

"Ministry of Consumer Affairs staff will work in four key areas:

networking with, and supporting community agencies working with the Ministry's target consumer groups;
co-ordinating education programmes and media events specifically targeted at low income, Maori and Pacific Island consumers;
providing a service to deal with complex consumer issues/disputes referred through community organisations; and
working directly and more proactively with traders who deal mostly with low income earners, Maori and Pacific Islanders to raise awareness of compliance with consumer protection legislation thereby benefiting these consumer groups.
"This change of direction has been initiated to ensure that the Ministry is reaching a greater number of consumers who most need information and helping them to know and understand their consumer rights.

"A recent review undertaken by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs highlighted the restrictions of the current national toll-free telephone advice service provided. Whilst around 50,000 callers use the service annually, it has meant that the Ministry was only reaching a small proportion of consumers, and very few low income consumers.

"Ministry staff have only been able to undertake a very limited range of other education and information work because of the need to staff the advisory telephone service. It is essential to ensure that resources are used to reach key target consumer groups," said the Minister.

"Therefore the national toll-free number will be replaced with this new initiative. By taking education, information and advisory skills into the community, many more consumers and businesses will be helped so that they can deal with their own consumer related problems. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs will also ensure that information on consumer rights is more widely available through libraries, traders, the Ministry Internet web page, and community organisations.

"New Zealand leads the world in consumer protection legislation with the Consumer Guarantees Act and the Fair Trading Act. We need to make sure that New Zealand consumers and traders know about their rights and responsibilities and work together towards a more fair and informed marketplace," concluded Robyn McDonald.