Software to get consumer protection in New Zealand

Buyers of software, telecommunications, electricity and other services in New Zealand should see their consumer rights safeguarded by mid-2002.

A new Consumer Protection Bill also looks set to force power firms to compensate for damage to computer and other electrical devices caused by power surges.

The government is extending the Consumer Guarantees Act to close a loopholes in current legislation.

It moved closer last week when the bill, introduced by Acting Consumer Affairs Minister Jim Anderton, had its first reading in Parliament.

“The definition of ‘goods’, ‘services’, and supplier will be extended in the Consumer Guarantees Act to cover electricity, gas, telecommunications, water and waste water removal network operators, retailers, and computer software,” says Anderton.

“This legislation will make lines companies accountable to consumers for failures or mistakes they make. Electricity supply that is prone to frequent interruption, or violent and arbitrary spikes and surges as a result of supplier failure, will not be acceptable. Some companies may have to look closely at the information they give customers, and how they give it.

“This new bill can make suppliers of utilities responsible for compensating consumers for damage caused if their goods are not of acceptable quality, or if they don’t perform a service with reasonable skill and care.

“Many electricity companies will have to rethink the limitation and exclusion liability in their customer contracts or risk breaking the law,” Anderton says.

A High Court case in 1998 found that electricity, gas and telecomms were not covered by existing legislation, putting consumer rights in doubt. Computer software was also inserted into the bill.

A spokesman for Anderton says currently there may be problems over who should give redress if computer software does not do what it was supposed to, particularly if sub-contractors are involved.

The public can make submissions on the bill, which will go before the commerce select committee for consideration. Anderton expects the bill to become law between March and June next year.