Have you ever seen home shopping trucks parked in your neighbourhood and wondered what they do and how they work? The news is not good.
Sales trucks are part of a multimillion-dollar industry taking advantage of our poorest: trawling the streets in low-income areas, knocking on the doors of family homes, selling clothes, bedding, furniture, electronics and sometimes food.
There are 40 companies operating sales trucks. Some are more ethical than others but the unscrupulous operators are flourishing and giving the entire industry a bad reputation.
Their prices are usually higher than normal retail, often many times higher. Where else would you find a packet of biscuits for $23.99 or a packet of rubbish bags selling for $49.99?
The truck companies claim to be offering a good service, but if the service was so great they would be in the rich Auckland suburbs of Grey Lynn, Remuera and Mt Eden.
In fact, they flourish in poorer neighbourhoods because they target the unemployed, low-paid, elderly and mentally ill.
Cash is not required. The trucks run on credit. If they turn up at a house where a family is hungry but has no money, petrol or car, they can buy food from the truck: at extortionate prices.
The true cost of items is often concealed in favour of a price-per-week. Delivery fees can be up to $500. Some companies continue to take money after the debt has been repaid.
Customers are often tricked into completing multiple direct debit forms so that if they regret the purchase and cancel it with the bank; another can be activated by the truck company. Sometimes, the promised product is not delivered; trying to contact the company is an exercise in frustration.
The government is ignoring the problem. They seem more concerned with protecting the sales trucks than their victims. There are no restrictions on the trucks, except for the requirement to have a sales licence from the local council.
I would like to see those council licences available only to truck companies that have joined the Direct Selling Association of New Zealand and proven through an audit that they comply with the code of conduct.
As a matter of urgency, I would like to see a ban on the sales of food, cigarettes and alcohol from the trucks.
As Labour’s spokesman for Consumer Affairs, I want to see rules in place to protect people from unethical sales trucks. Our elderly, poor and vulnerable rely on us to protect them.
David Shearer is Member of Parliament elected from Mt Albert Constituency.