Recently I challenged the Minister of Consumer Affairs about her inadequate response to rising food prices facing hard working New Zealanders who are already struggling.
In the House a couple of weeks ago I rose to speak in support in a initiative by National backbencher Amy Adams with her Fair Trading (Soliciting on Behalf of Charities) Amendment Bill. This Bill is positive for our charitable sector and for those of us who donate to charities. It will provide for disclosure of the proportion of the money raised by professional third party collectors is retained by those organisations. The actions of some in retaining up to 70% of donations undermines confidence of the public in our charitable sector.
This Bill is consistent with good consumer rights principles like transparency and informed choice. It is good seeing someone looking at improving our consumer legislation. Sadly the Minister despite her ‘one door one law’ rhetoric doesn’t seem to be really thinking about the reality facing our consumers.
As Labour’s Consumer Affairs spokesperson I believe there are a number of areas requiring attention:
- Improving consumer knowledge and protection, especially given the consequences of bad decisions and ‘rip offs’ are more significant in tough economic times
- Recognising the needs of vulnerable consumers like the poor, those with low literacy, the elderly and the young; and improving services and information targeted to them including access to advocacy
- Targeting exploitation like loan sharks and truck shops who specifically and systematically target vulnerable consumers
- Updating consumer law to take account of changing relationships eg online selling
- Recognising greater consumer awareness and the desire from more consumers for ethical and environmentally sustainable products; and the associated use of consumer power
I will be campaigning around a number of these areas over the next few months starting with the targeting of loan sharks as a consequence of picking up the Credit Reforms (Responsible Lending) Bill previously in the name of Charles Chauvel. I will also continue to push the Minister for government action on behalf of consumers.
I love Christmas and the giving of gifts but I know that many will be getting further into debt at this time of the year. Some of that debt will be at extortionate rates. One example I have seen is an annualised rate of 416%. The people being caught up in these rip offs are the poorest New Zealanders. The same people being targeted by truck shops as recently revealed by the Manukau Budgeting and Family Support Services here.
These rips offs have huge negative effects on families. I want to acknowledge the work of our budgeting services and Citizens Advice Bureaux who with limited resources work tireless to provide information on rights and to pick up the pieces of people who are in dire circumstances. They do a fantastic job.
A harder line must be taken to stop loan sharks and others who seek to exploit those who are poor and vulnerable. I will be challenging the Government to take action.