I realise this might be slightly controversial but ... I've been slightly concerned recently by, what can only be called, a mangling of the provisions of New Zealand's Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA).

In a recent decision, New Zealand's Disputes Tribunal awarded a man a partial (but significant) refund for a replacement Toyota car key because it was 'too expensive'. Hot on the heels of that story hitting the press, Honda voluntarily provided a full refund to a disgruntled customer (Mr Doy) of its own.

While it's good to see brands, like Honda in this instance, acting ethically and giving customers like Mr Doy a refund, I suspect the refund (and associated positive coverage) had more to do with the PR team entering damage control mode rather than Honda believing it actually needed to provide a refund (or if it did, maybe it should have sought better advice).

In New Zealand, consumers' main protections are found within the CGA. By and large the Act does a good job, although sometimes its provisions do not go far enough.

It appears that the Disputes Tribunal agrees, and its recent decision entered uncharted (and realistically unwarranted) territory when deciding a Toyota customer, Mr Funnell, had been 'overcharged' by Toyota for a replacement key.

The Tribunal decided that the provision of the CGA*, requiring manufacturers taking reasonable action to ensure repair facilities and spare parts are available for their products for a reasonable period, had been breached.

The primary reason for the decision seems to be not that repair facilities and spare parts were not reasonably available (because they clearly were) but rather that the Toyota dealer network was simply making too much money from supplying those spare parts.

The relevant CGA provision* contains so many references to 'reasonableness' which qualify the obligation that realistically anything other than an actual refusal to supply repair facilities or spare parts, is very unlikely to be in breach.

This decision appears to be another classic example of the Disputes Tribunal's 'let's split it in half because that must be fair … right (?)' attitude in action and bears little resemblance to the actual provisions of the CGA. Supporting this view is the fact that the CGA obligation to make repair facilities or spare parts available is not absolute. Putting aside the reputation issues, all a manufacturer (/seller) needs to do is make it clear to customers, before the products are supplied, that no repair facilities or spare parts will be available.

Don't get me wrong, I am pro consumer rights and can sympathise with Mr Doy and Mr Funnell, as I'm sure anyone who has had to buy a replacement key in the last decade can, but the decision is a significant overreach in the interests of trying to find the 'right' answer.

If the statutory protections of consumer rights are deficient then it is for government to ensure the balance is right. It is not up to the Disputes Tribunal to mangle the provisions of the CGA (or other legislation) to represent what it thinks should be the law.

* Section 12 of the CGA reads:

Guarantee as to repairs and spare parts

(1)   Subject to sections 41 and 42, where goods are first supplied to a consumer in New Zealand (whether or not that supply is the first-ever supply of the goods), there is a guarantee that the manufacturer will take reasonable action to ensure that facilities for repair of the goods and supply of parts for the goods are reasonably available for a reasonable period after the goods are so supplied.