It is hard to believe that just 4 months ago the Prime Minister announced COVID-19 alert levels and the Commission moved immediately to everyone working at home for the foreseeable future. We had the technology in place for our people to be able to work remotely and our IT team did a great job in ensuring our systems were robust. Our people did an outstanding job under difficult circumstances during alert level 4 and it was great to see the resilience and creative thinking that came from working remotely as an organisation. Our Auckland team are back working from home in level 3.
The Commission saw a significant increase in the number of complaints and enquiries that we received from consumers and businesses as a result of COVID-19. We have assessed over 2100 complaints and engaged with businesses over issues such as cancellation and refunds, failure to supply goods ordered online, membership and subscription issues and claims relating to a cure, prevention or treatment of COVID-19. We have also released guidance to businesses and consumers on business collaboration under COVID-19, consumer rights in relation to COVID-19 issues and responsible lending for lenders and borrowings during the pandemic. We will continue to prioritise cases where significant consumer detriment may result, this includes misrepresentations in relation to products experiencing increased demand arising from COVID-19.
Consumer engagement is a key focus for us and our telecommunications team has been busy promoting two important consumer-facing Codes. The Draft Copper Withdrawal Code aims to provide appropriate protection for consumers in Chorus’ nationwide roll out of fibre and the Draft 111 Contact Code seeks to protect consumers currently on or moving to new technologies. Both codes aim to ensure that people are given enough time and support to prepare for the changes. The team is now reviewing the approximately 300 submissions we received and will use the feedback to shape and refine the codes. Final versions of the codes will be published later this year. In electricity, we recently held a series of stakeholder and consumer engagement sessions in Dunedin and Central Otago on lines company Aurora’s plan to spend several hundred million dollars to address safety and reliability issues on its network. You can read more about that in this edition of Bulletin.
Commissioner Dr John Small appeared before Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Select Committee last month to present our submission in support of the Fuel Industry Bill 2020. The Bill was passed into law on August 5 and was based on the findings of our December 2019 market study into retail fuel. It is intended to increase competition in the wholesale fuel market and includes a more transparent wholesale pricing regime requiring fuel suppliers to supply fuel from storage terminals to wholesale customers at publicly posted prices. It also features rules to ensure contracts between wholesale fuel suppliers and their wholesale customers are fair and support competition. Under the legislation the Commission will have new powers to enforce the requirements. The legislation is expected to come into effect in various stages from August 2021.
Over the years, the Commission’s functions have grown. The Government has recognised this and is investing in our organisation, supporting our growth and strengthening our impact as we work to make New Zealanders better off. Last month we launched ‘Fit for the Future’ – a programme designed not only to strengthen our impact, but also to ensure the flexibility, sustainability and resilience of our organisation as we change and grow. I look forward to sharing more with you about this work in the coming months.
Finally, we recently farewelled Telecommunications Commissioner Dr Stephen Gale. Stephen has made a significant contribution during his 10 years in the role and will be missed. Our new Telecommunications Commissioner, Tristan Gilbertson, is now on board and we look forward to introducing him to our stakeholders. Tristan is a corporate and commercial lawyer and brings a wealth of international experience in telecommunications law and regulation.