Consumer and commercial regulatory system

This page describes the consumer and commercial regulatory system, its objectives and our qualitative assessment of it. It also lists the main statutes and changes to regulation either planned or in progress.

System description and objectives

System description

The Consumer and Commercial Regulatory System is based on a set of legislation focused on 4 core areas:

  1. a set of economy wide consumer protection provisions based around the Fair Trading Act’s prohibitions against misleading, deceptive or unfair conduct
  2. a set of legislative provisions promoting safety and quality
  3. a set of laws providing the basic framework for commercial transactions, and
  4. laws governing transactions in specific sectors of the economy (eg. motor vehicles and credit contracts).

The Fair Trading Act and the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act are enforced by the Commerce Commission, an independent Crown entity monitored by MBIE. Other legislation is enforced by MBIE (eg the Weights and Measures Act) or must be self-enforced by the complainant (eg the Consumer Guarantees Act).

Because of the huge variation in goods and services transacted across the economy, the universal provisions of the consumer and commercial regulatory system are supported or supplemented by a wide range of sector or issue-specific regulatory systems, for example:

Objectives

The Consumer and Commercial Regulatory System is a broad system focused on enabling consumers and businesses to transact with confidence. The system helps consumers to:

  • access and understand the relevant information
  • be protected from high levels of detriment from actions outside of their control
  • have access to appropriate redress avenues if things go wrong.

Ministerial portfolios and key statutes

Portfolios Key statutes
  • Auctioneers Act 2013
  • Consumer Guarantees Act 1993
  • Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003
  • Contract and Commercial Law Act (Parts 3 and 5)
  • Fair Trading Act 1986
  • Motor Vehicle Sales Act 2003
  • Weights and Measures Act 1987
  • Bills of Exchange Act 1908
  • Electricity Industry Act 2010 (subpart 1 of Part 4)
  • Cheques Act 1960
  • Financial Service Providers (Registration and Dispute Resolution) 2008 (Part 3)

Regulatory agencies and their roles

Core regulatory actors

A number of different teams at MBIE are directly involved in the consumer and commercial system. Their different roles are set out in the following table.

Agency or team Role

Competition and Consumer Policy (MBIE)

Leads the consumer and commercial regulatory system.  Responsible for advising the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs on consumer policy issues and for administering consumer and commercial legislation. 

Corporate Governance and Intellectual Property Policy (MBIE)

Responsible for advising the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs on commercial law and has shared responsibility with the Competition and Consumer Policy team for administering commercial legislation.

Business.govt.nz(external link) (MBIE)

Provides tools and advice to businesses from across government, including advice on compliance with consumer and commercial regulation.

Consumer Protection(external link) (MBIE)

Develops and delivers targeted information and programmes aimed at increasing the ability of consumers to transact with confidence. Together with Competition and Consumer Policy, the Consumer Protection team shares joint oversight of the overall development, implementation and review of system strategy and policy.

Service Design Policy (MBIE)

Plays a role in supporting the Market Services Group and its regulatory systems by providing leadership and coordination of projects, and providing advice on operational policy and service design.

Government Centre for Dispute Resolution (GCDR) (MBIE)

GCDR is the steward of dispute resolution across government. It develops best practice guidance, tools and other resources, assists agencies to review and design dispute resolution schemes, and suggests improvements to dispute resolution across government. Dispute resolution is a cross-cutting issue across a number of regulatory systems with consumer and commercial elements.

Standards New Zealand(external link) (MBIE)

Develops New Zealand standards for products, processes, services and performance across a range of goods and services that consumers purchase, including building and construction, electrical and gas safety, and consumer product safety. It is a member of the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission and uses consensus-based, transparent processes consistent with international practice, and provides access to these standards to the public.

Trading Standards(external link) (MBIE)

Undertakes monitoring, compliance and enforcement of measurement and product safety settings. It is responsible for regulating a range of consumer products, the national measurement system used for trade, fuel quality monitoring, and the registration of auctioneers and motor vehicle traders.

Commerce Commission(external link)

An independent Crown entity responsible for enforcing consumer and commercial regulation (under both the consumer and commercial system and the competition system) and provides information and guidance to businesses and consumers about the law.

Other important actors

Agency Role

New Zealand Customs Service(external link)

Enforces compliance at the border with a range of import prohibitions and restrictions. This protects the community, environment and economy of New Zealand, and enables New Zealand to comply with international agreements and obligations.

Consumer NZ(external link)

An independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to getting New Zealanders a fairer deal. Its work involves testing and making recommendations on products and services, investigating consumer issues, mystery shopping, providing advice to consumers about their rights, and campaigning to improve consumer protection.

Citizens Advice Bureau(external link)

Provides a free and independent volunteer-based service to help people know and understand their rights and obligations, and how to use this information to get the best outcomes. It provides people with the confidence and support they need to take action, and work for positive social change within communities and wider society.

Commission for Financial Capability(external link)

An autonomous Crown entity that provides information, education and advice on financial capability to New Zealand consumers. Financial capability is an important element in helping consumers to transact with confidence.

Community Law Centres o Aotearoa(external link)

Provide free one-on-one legal advice, including on consumer rights and commercial obligations, to people with limited finances. There are 24 community law centres throughout the country. Legal information and other resources are provided on the Community Law Centres o Aotearoa website.

Dispute resolution services

These services may be required by legislation for particular industries, or may be set up voluntarily as industry-led initiatives.

Dispute resolution services include:

The courts, Disputes Tribunal and Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal also provide dispute resolution functions. While they may make determinations on aspects of consumer and commercial law, their jurisdiction is broader than the consumer and commercial system.

Financial Markets Authority(external link)

An independent Crown entity that promotes and facilitates the development of fair, efficient and transparent financial markets in New Zealand. The Financial Markets Authority plays a secondary role in the consumer and commercial system by supervising the conduct of financial service providers, promoting the confident and informed participation of consumers in financial markets, and working with the Commerce Commission to enforce lender compliance.

FinCap(external link)

A non-government organisation focused on offering support to the building financial capability sector in New Zealand. It supports the sector through the development of professional standards, advocacy for building financial capability sector interests and communicating advice to government and other key stakeholders, such as creditors.

Collaboration and information-sharing between regulatory agencies

The Commerce Commission has memoranda of understanding with regulators in other systems, such as energy markets and financial markets, which allow it to share information and work collaboratively with these agencies. These include the Financial Markets Authority, Gas Industry Company Limited, Electricity Authority and Department of Internal Affairs.

MBIE’s Consumer Protection team shares information and collaborates with regulators such as the Commerce Commission through a number of forums and working groups. These include the Consumer Protection Partnership Forum, Consumer Market Intelligence Group and the Motor Vehicle Issues Group.

MBIE’s Trading Standards team collaborates with other groups and agencies where required to shape and deliver its functions. When developing legislative interventions with enforceable provisions for product safety, Trading Standards collaborates with the Commerce Commission (regarding products in-market) and Customs (for products at the border). Trading Standards also has memoranda of understanding and strong working relationships with other agencies working in the product safety area, such as WorkSafe NZ, the Ministry of Health and the Environmental Protection Authority.

Regulated parties and main stakeholders

All businesses operating in New Zealand are subject to the Fair Trading Act and other generic consumer and commercial legislation. Businesses trading with consumers are subject to the Consumer Guarantees Act, with a narrower set of businesses regulated by sector-specific legislation such as the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act.

Key business representative stakeholders include:

  • Retail NZ
  • the New Zealand Bankers’ Association
  • Financial Services Federation
  • Motor Trade Association.

Consumer advice and advocacy groups are key consumer stakeholders and participants in the system, such as:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau
  • Community Law Centres
  • FinCap (representing budget advisors).

Processes for engagement with regulated parties and stakeholders

The Consumer Protection Partnership Forum enables connections across the consumer protection sector, develops a shared understanding of the roles in the system, and identifies opportunities to work together. Its members include MBIE, the Citizens Advice Bureau. Commission for Financial Capability, Commerce Commission, Community Law Centres o Aotearoa, Consumer NZ, MBIE, Financial Markets Authority, FinCap and Netsafe.

MBIE has formal agreements with some consumer groups to provide reports and data on specific consumer issues. For example, Citizens Advice Bureau provides reports to MBIE.

Other engagement takes place through standard policy processes and legislative processes, including:

  • meetings with key stakeholders referred to above and other issue-specific stakeholders, where relevant
  • by releasing and seeking feedback on discussion documents
  • by releasing and seeking feedback on exposure drafts of bills and regulations.

Parliamentary processes for consulting on bills also provide for public engagement.

System's fitness-for-purpose

Effectiveness

System performing well against criteria

Overall, the system is achieving its objectives. The National Consumer Survey 2016 found 96% of consumers are aware of laws to protect them if transactions go wrong, and 75% agreed in New Zealand you can generally buy goods and services and feel confident businesses will do the right thing and not try to mislead consumers. In addition, 56% of consumers agreed they have enough information about their rights when purchasing, and 57% sought extra information to check the accuracy of product or service claims. Consumer’s understanding of their rights under the relatively new Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act were lower than the longer standing Fair Trading and Consumer Guarantees Act rights.

The consumer protection and credit contracts elements of the system have been significantly reformed to improve the information available to consumers and provide increased levels of protection. While it is too soon to be able to draw definitive conclusions, there are signs the new legislative provisions have a significant positive impact on commercial environments historically the source of significant consumer detriment. For example, many standard form contracts have been altered to avoid breaching the new unfair contract term provisions of the Fair Trading Act. There has been significant enforcement activity in the mobile truck shop sector having an impact on the conduct of merchants. The additional funding provided to the Commerce Commission in 2016 resulted in levels of enforcement activity more aligned with community expectations.

Efficiency

System performing well against criteria

A comparison of the breadth of the consumer and commercial regulatory system with the relatively low input costs and the generally positive outcomes being achieved suggests that the system is efficient.

A regulatory charter for the system has been completed and a regulatory system assessment was completed in November 2018

The main enforcement agency, the Commerce Commission, completed a self- assessment in 2015 using the State Service’s Commission’s Performance Improvement Framework and ranks well in efficiency comparisons such as the benchmark of administrative and support services (BASS) survey.

Resilience

System performing well against criteria

The rise of the digital economy is likely to present both challenges and opportunities to the consumer and commercial regulatory system. In particular, the increasing volume and value of cross-border e-commerce and the use of ‘big data’ to target particular groups of consumers will require ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure the system continues to deliver on its objectives. On the opportunity side, the increased availability of data new ways of using it has the potential to significantly enhance the consumer experience.

We are watching these emerging trends closely and we are well placed to look at alternative approaches to achieve system objectives.

Fairness and accountability

System performing well against criteria

Enforcement action for serious breaches of the consumer protection components of the system is via the High Court which provides an independent and transparent process with significant appeal rights.

Information about the system is widely disseminated through a variety of our channels and Commerce Commission channels. Evidence from the National Consumer Survey suggests that this information is widely available and having a positive impact on consumer conduct and confidence.

Proposed regulatory changes

The timeframes for improvements noted in this section are indicative and may change. We will review this information at least quarterly and update timeframes as required.

Matter name Policy intent Planned consultation Status

Credit Contracts Legislation  Amendment Bill

Matter type: Bill

Amendments to the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003 to address issues with irresponsible lending.

Consultation on the Bill has been completed. An exposure draft of regulations will be published in November 2019.

Bill was introduced in April 2019 and is expected to be passed by early 2020.

Regulatory Systems (Economic Development) Amendment (No 2) Bill

Matter type: Bill

Minor, technical amendments to the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003, Fair Trading Act 1986, Weights and Measures Act 1987.

Consultation

The Bill is currently awaiting passage through the final stages of Parliament.

Regulatory Systems Amendment Bill 3

Matter type: Bill

Minor, technical amendments to the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003 and Fair Trading Act 1986.

Targeted consultation with stakeholders on proposed amendments has been completed.

Drafting of a Bill for introduction in 2020.

Fair Trading Act (Country of Origin of Food) Regulations 2020

Matter type: Regulations

Implements a country of origin regime for fresh and frozen fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood, as well as cured pork.

Consultation on the regulations has been completed.

Regulations are being developed. There is a legal requirement that regulations must be made by June 2020.

Ticket Reselling Bill

Matter type: Bill

Implement reforms to address ticket scalping.

 

Consultation on the policy has been completed.

Policy decisions will be made in due course.

Unfair Commercial Practices

Matter type: Bill

Reforms to the Fair Trading Act to protect businesses from unfair commercial practices.

Consultation on policy proposals has been completed.

Cabinet policy decisions have been announced and a Bill will be introduced by early 2020. 

Fair Trading Act reform

Matter type: Bill

Reforms to the Fair Trading Act following evaluation of the 2013 Fair Trading Act changes, to address identified gaps.

Release of a discussion paper is planned for 2020.

The evaluation is complete and an evaluation report is due to be published.

A draft discussion paper is under development.

 

Planned service and operational changes

The timeframes for improvements noted in this section are indicative and may change. We will review this information at least quarterly and update timeframes as required.

July 2019 to June 2020

A new community engagement programme will launch to extend our broad reach programme and engage consumers who, as a result of vulnerabilities experienced in their lives, are not fully engaged with information and programmes to help them transact with confidence.

The Consumer Protection Partnership, comprising key actors from government and the NGO sector within the consumer and commercial regulatory system, continues to progress a collective programme of action addressing key issues in the consumer system. The forum for the Partnership will discuss priority areas for the next 12-18 months including collective action to respond to the findings of the Consumer and Commercial Regulatory System Assessment(external link).

Significant targeted information and education campaigns will run during January to June 2019 in the context of raising consumers’ awareness and understanding of the Consumer Guarantees Act, and promoting new consumer information resources to help consumers know their rights and avoid common mistakes when buying a motor vehicle. These campaigns are complemented by an ongoing programme of smaller niche campaigns targeting specific consumer groups and specific consumer issues, for example scam/fraud awareness targeting an older audience.

Consumer Protection’s print resources and advocate learning resources will be refreshed to provide consumers and community groups with offline information and support. The offline resources will target groups that are harder to reach and engage and will be targeted to consumers experiencing digital access and language vulnerabilities.

Follow-up on the New Zealand Consumer Survey 2018 – Pursue programme of detailed research on areas of significance highlighted in the survey

Extend school resources launched in 2013 to kura environments.

Launch safer credit and financial inclusion strategy

 

Last updated: 21 May 2019