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First mobile traders sentenced under new laws with increased penalties

15 June 2016

Mobile traders Goodring Company Limited (Goodring) and Betterlife Corporation Limited (Betterlife) have been fined a total of $171,500 after being sentenced in Auckland District Court.

They are the first to be sentenced under strengthened Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003 (CCCFA) laws for lenders which came into force last year.

Goodring was fined $98,000 for breaches of the CCCFA, and the Financial Service Providers (Registration and Dispute Resolution) Act (FSPA). Betterlife was fined $73,500 for breaches of sections 17 and 32 of the CCCFA.

Goodring and Betterlife had earlier pleaded guilty to 28 charges and six charges respectively under the CCCFA, relating to their lending practices. Both companies failed to provide borrowers with the legally required information and the information was also not provided in a clear and concise way, as required by the Act. Goodring faced two additional charges under the FSPA. Under that Act, lenders must be registered on the Financial Service Providers register. Despite being aware of this requirement, Goodring was not registered.

In sentencing the companies, Judge Sharp acknowledged that these were the first prosecutions under the increased penalty maximums applying to misleading or unclear lender disclosure. She said that both Goodring’s and Betterlife’s terms and conditions suffered from “serious and significant deficiencies” and accepted that they would have been extremely difficult or impossible for the debtors to read or understand.

Commission General Counsel Mary-Anne Borrowdale said that the sentences are a result of the Commission acting on the problems it found during its year-long project on the mobile trader industry.

“We have been actively enforcing the amended credit laws since their introduction and they are important in protecting some of New Zealand’s more vulnerable consumers. We regarded the conduct of Betterlife and Goodring as serious because of the deficiencies in their loan contracts. Although the penalties given in this case were more than previously, we are considering whether they are adequate to address the non-compliance that we are seeing.”

Betterlife and Goodring are based in Auckland and usually operate from a truck or through using door- to- door sales staff. They sell consumer goods on credit (such as clothes, shoes and electrical items) at significantly higher prices than mainstream stores. For example, Goodring has been selling branded hoodies to customers for $159, well in excess of in-store prices, and one Betterlife customer purchased an iPhone 5C for $2,401 to pay off in instalments when these phones typically retail for around $600.

Mrs Borrowdale says this is far from the end of the Commission’s enforcement action against mobile traders and lower-tier lenders.

“We have a good number of other court cases and active investigations into mobile traders. These companies sell high priced goods to vulnerable consumers on credit in order to fund the purchase. We have found that a concerning number of mobile traders and lenders do not comply with the law, and we are taking action to change that”, she said.

Background

  1. The Commission has prosecuted six mobile traders this year, including Goodring and Betterlife. In February Flexi Buy Limited was fined $50,000 in the Auckland District Court and $3,480 was awarded in damages to affected customers. The fourth trader, Ace Marketing Limited, has pleaded guilty to the Commission’s charges and is expected to be sentenced in July. The fifth, Macful International Limited, appeared in Manukau District Court on Monday, June 13, on 21 charges under the CCCFA and the Finance Service Providers (Registration and Dispute Resolution) Act 2008. A sixth mobile trader has not yet appeared in Court.
     
  2. The Commission has a further 14 ongoing investigations into the conduct of mobile traders.
     
  3. In August 2015, the Commission published its mobile trader report after a year-long investigation into the industry. It found that 31 of the 32 mobile traders identified did not comply with all of their obligations under the Fair Trading Act 1986 and CCCFA. You can see the full Commerce Commission Mobile Trader 2014/15 Report and our press release highlighting the report on our website.