Despite strong efforts from the market to comply with provisions, unfair contract terms continue to impact the telco sector in New Zealand.
Recent Commerce Commission findings, when reviewing the standard form consumer contracts in the telecommunications sector, claims that while progress is being made, a lack of compliance still occurs on occasions.
Completed to assess the sector’s compliance with the unfair contract terms provisions of the Fair Trading Act introduced in March 2015, the unfair contract term provisions are designed to protect consumers from contract terms that create a significant imbalance of rights or obligations between the company and the consumer.
After the new provisions were introduced the Commission launched a project to review a range of standard form consumer contracts for unfair terms.
Commissioner, Anna Rawlings says the telecommunications sector was chosen as its first focus for two reasons.
“Overseas regulators told us in their experience it was an industry in which potentially unfair terms were common,” Rawlings says.
“In addition, many of the past complaints we had received about unfair contract terms related to telecommunications contracts.”
As part of the project, Rawlings says 19 separate standard form contracts from seven different companies were reviewed.
“The majority of telco companies had made real efforts to comply with the provisions before they were introduced,” Rawlings adds.
“However, we did identify 66 terms that we considered potentially unfair.
“Many of the terms were common across the contracts, particularly those that limited the liability of the company, allowed the company to unilaterally vary the contract or made the customer responsible for unauthorised charges.”
In some instances the companies were able to provide information to the Commission to show that the term was necessary to protect the legitimate business interests of the company.
In all other cases, Rawlings says the companies accepted the Commission view and have amended or agreed to amend the terms concerned.
“Most New Zealanders have one or more standard form consumer contracts with a telecommunications company and they can now be more confident about the fairness of those contracts,” Rawlings adds.
“We were pleased that the telco companies were receptive to our concerns, amending or agreeing to amend the majority of terms, avoiding the need for the Commission to consider court action.”
Rawlings says all companies have been issued with compliance advice letters from the Commission reminding them of their obligations under the law and cautioning them to ensure their standard form contracts remain compliant with the law.