Couple sold web package they had no way of using

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 04/06/2012
Kieran Yates, left, with her mother Valmarie Yates
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ

BAD DEAL: Kieran Yates, left, with her mother Valmarie Yates, who was sold an internet package by TelstraClear.

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She's got dementia, her husband is blind, and neither has a computer – but that did not stop a TelstraClear door-to-door salesman signing up an elderly Petone couple to an internet package they couldn't use.

"My mother is slowly getting senile dementia and my father can't see," daughter Kieran Yates said. "They made them sign something they did not understand."

Her mother, Valmarie Yates, 81, signed a contract intending to get digital television after a salesman knocked on the door of their unit in a village for the elderly.

Dr Yates said her parents repeatedly told the salesman they did not own a computer, but he signed them up to an internet package anyway.

She then began a frustrating battle to get the contract cancelled.

She called TelstraClear immediately, but for days she was met with a recorded message saying the company's system was down. She gave up once the legal "cooling-off" period of five working days to cancel a door sale had passed.

But after receiving two monthly bills of $126, her father asked again why he was paying for internet services when he had no way to use them. After two weeks, and long phone calls on hold, Dr Yates finally got the contract changed.

It required stamina her elderly parents did not have, she said. "I don't think having to go through that process is acceptable."

TelstraClear spokesman Gary Bowering said the salesman had not followed proper processes and the company corrected the mistake as soon as it became aware of it.

The company gave mandatory training on both the law and code of conduct, he said. "When dealing with potential customers who appear frail or elderly, our door-to-door agents are expected to leave the contract with the customer, advise that they take the time to review it, and recommend that they ask a family member for advice."

He apologised for the trouble Dr Yates had in contacting TelstraClear and said it was taking on more staff to deal with "overwhelming" caller demand.

The Consumer Law Reform Bill, expected to pass through Parliament later in the year, would regulate uninvited direct sales almost anywhere apart from a company's own premises.

Its aim is to replace outdated consumer laws such as the Door to Door Sales Act 1967 with one bringing them together.

One of its recommendations is that door-to-door salesmen give clear and written instructions on how to cancel a sale. Another is to extend the cooling-off period.

Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin advised elderly or vulnerable people to "shut the door" on salesmen. "These are the people they target."

A Commerce Commission spokeswoman said it observed a "disproportionate number of complaints" about door-to-door sales compared with those in stores or online.

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- The Dominion Post

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