Free Self-Help Consumer Tools at RightsGuide.NZ

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In February, I posted a deal for a tool I had put together to help dispute private parking tickets.

My idea was to build a whole load of self-help consumer tools, but the idea flopped a bit. I had the wrong model (to ask people to pay for the tool) and probably ran it on the wrong platform (a platform called community.lawyer).

This month I've decided to have another go, this time with the idea of making all of the tools free. I've used the open-source software that community.lawyer is based on, docassemble, so the look should be similar. So far, I've got the following tools up:

  • Dispute a late payment fee (have successfully tried this out with one of my banks)
  • Ask for a credit card fee waiver (I had good feedback on the version of this tool I previously offered, including from a few cheapies members)
  • Check whether Home Direct may owe you a refund (I imagine cheapies members won't be truck shop customers, but the idea is that Home Direct stole ~$600,000 from their customers and are yet to give a lot of it back)
  • Request your credit report from all three NZ bureaux, plus some overseas bureaux. You can do this directly with each bureau, but it's a bit of a hassle.
  • Find out what New Zealand political parties know about you (inspired by this Stuff article over the weekend)

Over the next few weeks, I'm also aiming to smash out some of the following:

  • the parking ticket tool
  • a bunch of tenancy tools
  • flatmate agreement
  • agreement for private sale of secondhand goods/vehicles
  • a tool to apply to your local council under the DIA rates rebate scheme
  • a tool to ask for late payment penalties on rates to be remitted
  • a tool to prepare the court documents to apply to change the gender marker on your birth certificate (if any trans readers have any experience with this, I'd be grateful to hear your thoughts)

I hope these tools are of use to some cheapies members. Also, I'd be really grateful for any feedback you might have on the existing tools or any suggestions of other tools you'd like to see.

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Comments

  • Awesome tools. Do you have any means of generating revenue? (just out of curiosity)

    • +1 vote

      Not really, eh. There's a little tip button, but not really expecting anything.

      It's just a side project for me - so provided the hosting costs don't get super expensive, I'm not too worried about it.

      Are there any tools you reckon people would find useful? Or that you would find useful?

      They can be simple things, like the tools that are already up - or they can be more complex tools that you can think of a bit like a flowchart or a tree diagram, with lots of different outcomes depending on the answers. I do want to work on a few more complex ones too!

      • That's really wonderful of you to offer such useful tools for free. I have some friends from overseas and they might appreciate some tools related to querying about the status of their visa and residency applications, as the process seems very slow and non-transparent!

  • Do you store any info provided through your site?

    • +1 vote

      Generally, no.

      Hard to say 100% that I don't. If you don't log in, then no data is saved by my tools or the docassemble platform it runs on. Obviously if you create an account and log in, then it will store the information in your account unless you delete it. (I'll put some clearer instructions up re how.)

      I have turned off various settings that would otherwise store user info, but can't guarantee I've thought of everything… e.g. I found out today that my email service keeps logs (not the emails themselves) of addresses emails are sent to for 5 days for troubleshooting purposes. I'm going to turn that off, though.

      Are there any tools you'd find useful?

  • Hi mate,

    Great idea, had a scroll through and looks cool!

    How does the user guarantee their information is “safe” when it passes through the website?

    For example - your credit score process requires driver license number and personal details. For all we know - you could be using this data?

    Please don’t take offence to the question! Not targeting you! :)

    Cheers.

    • Nah nah, it's a fair question. I can pinky swear, and my actual name is on the site. I'll have to have a think what else I can do to give you confidence the information is not being misused! I think I can turn a feature on that shows the "source" script each tool runs on - will see if that's safe to do and let you know. Presume it will be.

      Also, any tool that you would find useful or like to see?

  • Cool I'll try that credit card annual fee tool.

    I got to say that personally I feel the "Neucha" font is a bit frivolous and does not lend the gravitas and seriousness needed for this type of project.

    • You will be pleased to see that I've switched up the look and feel of the site. Thanks for the feedback.

  • There are some people that like info on what to do when a TradeMe purchase or sale goes wrong. (Can be extended to include things like facebook purchases and general online purchases) I have some experience around that. Could be one to consider

  • Had a quick look. Bloody well done you ! A work in progress yes and I'll certainly be taking a look in future.
    😀

  • you should add a little google ad banner in your app, its the least you could do for your side hustle

    • It's less side hustle, and more side project - if the usage and hosting costs pick up heaps, I might though!

  • Well done, thanks for making them free :)
    How about a tool for negotiating Mortgage Interest rates?
    Tool for negotiating Broadband plans etc

    • +1 vote

      Good idea re the mortgage one. I can whip that up pretty quick. I fixed my mortgage again about two months ago, and couldn't get my bank to reduce their rate (but I had successfully done that last year) at all - but I did get the bank to agree to a cash contribution, and then to increase it slightly (offered $1,000, I said $1,500, they said $1,100, I said $1,250, they said $1,100… I folded).

  • Thanks for these. I tried the political party information request one and so far the replies I have had they are telling me I have to fill out the proper privacy act form or some BS

    • +1 vote

      Absolute sneaky horsesh*t (them, not you). If you would be happy to PM me with the text of their replies, I can add some pre-emptive wording into the template.

      There is no magic form for a Privacy Act request (I advise on this a bit in my job, and regularly tell exasperated people that, yes, a request over the phone or by DM is a valid request).

  • Really great tools you have!
    You should post this over at https://www.reddit.com/r/newzealand/ it'll get a good amount of buzz there.

    • +2 votes

      I want to hold off until I:

      • get a few more tools set up; and
      • make sure everything is working well and scales up with usage.

      I don't have much of an IT background, and so I wanted to do a bit of a test run with you all as guinea pigs to see whether this level of use crashes everything. So far, so good - but please let me know if you had any problems or experienced any slowness.

      But yes, I will post over there in a wee bit.

      • Could share on Geekzone as well. I think you'll get a lot of constructive feedback there.

  • The credit score one didn't work. Centrix emailed me suggesting I apply to see credit score through their website

    • +1 vote

      Thanks for the feedback. It's unlawful of them through-and-through. I've had quite a few people contact me with the same types of problems - I'm going to contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to let them know that both credit reporting agencies and political parties are ignoring perfectly valid access requests.

      Would you mind copying/pasting their email into a DM (you can remove any personal info), so I can pre-emptively address their objections in the template?

      • +3 votes

        My own request to Centrix was refused. I've responded as follows:

        Hi [name],

        Can I confirm with you please that a larger version of the image will suffice, and that Centrix does not have an inherent objection to answering requests via this tool? Your email appears to refuse the request rather than simply asking me to provide a larger version of my ID, which would be the appropriate response.

        You will no doubt have had a few of these requests today. I am the author of this tool, and I am concerned by reports from other users that Centrix has been refusing requests made using the tool. I am open to being corrected, but my understanding is that these requests are perfectly valid requests under the Privacy Act 1993 and the Credit Reporting Privacy Code 2004.

        The tool downsizes images so that they are not excessively large (thinking of your inbox as well as my email server). But if the images are too small, then I am more than happy to set the tool to downsize them only to a size that you consider acceptable for ID verification purposes.

        If you are unable to answer any of these questions or are in any doubt, please refer this email to your manager.

        Kind regards,

        Tyrone.

        • +1 vote

          And the response:

          Good afternoon Tyrone

          [name] has referred you email to me to respond to.

          While you are correct, individuals can request access to their personal information under the Privacy Act 1993 in a form that the recipient of the request can confirm the identity of the individual, the Privacy Commissioner accepted credit reporters would naturally receive far more requests due to the nature of their business which is why there are specific access provisions within the Credit Reporting Privacy Code 2004. In order to turn these requests around as quickly as possible, Centrix has a tool on its website (https://www.centrix.co.nz/my-credit-score/ ) aimed at requesting the relevant information to ensure the correct individual is identified and their associated credit reported provided. The tool is hosted on our secure website and we do not update our database with the provided information if the individual indicates we should not. In excess of 90% of the individual’s provide their NZ Driver Licence as proof of identity and if they also provide an email address the credit report is usually provided the same working day. If Centrix needs to manually intervene with the request we cannot guarantee same day turnaround.

          Turning to your query if Centrix has any inherent objection, we do not but what we have been responding back to the applications we received today is a suggestion they apply on-line via our website as they will have their request completed a lot quicker. Further your tool is less secure as we are receiving personal information including name, date of birth, address and even images of full driver licenses in open emails which is not our preferred method of communication. So the requests are valid but we maintain they are not as secure as our on-line portal and our responses will not be as efficient.

          I did look at your Credit Report Request Tool and noted several comments that I believe do not reflect what we do at Centrix. In the first case we do not “do business by skirting around the edges of privacy law.” as the Credit Reporting Privacy Code clearly sets out our obligations as a credit reporter which we strictly adhere to. Further you will find Centrix does not ”make it difficult by insisting you give them lots of additional information, by requiring you to agree to terms and conditions, or by signing up for an account with them.” Centrix imposes no terms or conditions on an individual to access their own credit report, nor do we request any personal information other than to immediately identify the individual nor do we create accounts for individuals. Each request is treated as a single transaction and is not used for any other purpose than to provide the individuals credit report as at the time it is generated.

          Can I suggest you try our on-line service and hopefully you will be pleased with its simplicity and speed of service. If you still have any queries or concerns, please feel free to contact me via email or call me on [phone number].

          Thank you

          Bill [lastname]

          Operations and Compliance Manager

          • +4 votes

            @homegardener: To which I responded:

            Hi Bill,

            I'm glad that you have confirmed that you have no inherent objection to responding by email. I can breathe a sigh of relief.

            There are certainly advantages to using your online tool - I'll concede that. On the other hand, the tool only constitutes an application for "your personal credit report". My tool is written with the distrusting consumer in mind and explicitly asks the credit reporter to provide full access to every last bit of credit information held by the credit reporter, and not just the information that makes it into a standard-form credit report.

            Because I'm all about good faith, I'll include a hyperlink to your online tool in my tool along with your comments about the tool's advantages. That way, my users can decide what tool they want to use. You will then be in a position to respond to those requests with the information sought, rather than by attempting to deter users from sticking with their request. That might help you partially address that inefficiency problem.

            Would you please let me know the minimum image size that you consider allows you to verify a person's identity (assuming an image of a New Zealand driver licence)? I trust this will be no problem as it will prevent the time of your staff and customers being wasted.

            Have a most excellent day, and I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

            Tyrone.

        • +4 votes

          And now I've written to the Privacy Commissioner, hopefully to nip the bad behaviour from Centrix in the bud:


          Hello,

          I am a lawyer based in Wellington. As a public interest side project, I have recently launched a website providing self-help tools to assist New Zealanders to enforce their various rights. https://www.rightsguide.nz/

          The website is very much a work in progress, but over the next few months I intend to put tools on the site to deal with a very broad range of consumer rights or human rights issues.

          One of the tools that is already up is a tool to request, in one go, your credit file from all of the New Zealand credit reporters (and, optionally, from various credit bureaux in other countries).

          Centrix has responded to valid requests made by users of the site by suggesting that the user makes a request using either their own webform or the AboutMe tool on your website. I've had several users contact me saying that 'it didn't work', so clearly under the impression that the request has been declined. I have included a copy of one such response to a user at the end of this email.

          I would be grateful if you could look into this, and potentially to nip this issue in the bud early. I don't deny that Centrix has the right to recommend their own tool, but I submit that:
          they should not do so in a way that implies that they will not entertain the original request; and
          very importantly, if the user does not replace their request with one via the Centrix webform, the original request still stands and must be responded to within 10 working days.
          I have tried to address Centrix's concerns by including a link to the Centrix tool in my own tool, and also by offering today to redevelop my tool so that it provides information to Centrix in a way that enables it to process requests more efficiently.

          Bill, I have copied you into this email so that you are fully in the loop - and with the hope that you can confirm both of the matters above, and therefore resolve the matter without any formal intervention from OPC.

          Kind regards,
          Tyrone.


          Here is the response from Centrix to one of my users. Name removed.

          Hello [name]
          Thank you for your email.
          May I suggest you apply for your Centrix credit report on line via https://www.centrix.co.nz/personal/get-credit-report/. This will display your credit score and full information of all details held with our Centrix Bureau including who may previously have accessed your credit information. Once you receive your credit report we can discuss the details
          Alternatively you could go to the Privacy Commissioner website and complete the form to get information held on you via https://www.privacy.org.nz/further-resources/aboutme-request... ,complete your personal details and under “Name or Organisation, business or government agency” enter Centrix and it will populate our email address, then complete the form.
          If you have any issues please let me know.
          Kind Regards
          [name removed]

          • +2 votes

            @homegardener: Response from the Privacy Commissioner, and reply from me:


            Tēnā koe Tyrone

            Thank you for your two emails. I can confirm we have received one about Centrix and one about illion. I understand you have created a tool to assist individuals to request their information from credit report. You are concerned the credit reporters have responded to individuals who are using your form by asking individuals to use their form or our “about me” form.

            Our Office investigates complaints where an individual has alleged one of the privacy principles have been breached by an agency. For your Centrix complaint, we would need to receive a complaint from the user directly or as the individual’s appointed representative.

            In relation to your own request for personal information, you have said illion asking you to fill out their form indicates it has declined your request. However, it doesn’t appear illion has refused your request, but asked you for further information.

            Under rule 5 of the Credit Code a credit reporter must take such security safeguards as it is reasonable in the circumstances to take against loss, misuse etc. If Centrix or illion consider they need extra information from individuals which is not listed on your form to authorise the request, they will have an obligation to ask for this information.

            We recommend you raise any concerns you have about your self-help tool or your access request to the agencies directly.

            I hope this clarifies our Office’s process.

            Ngā mihi nui,

            [name]

            Senior Investigator

            Investigations & Dispute Resolution Team


            My response:

            Kia ora Ms [name],

            I'm disappointed by this response.

            There are two questions that I would appreciate if you could please consider further:

            • The form is a standard form application, containing a lot of detail that is already provided by users via my tool. The obvious implication, absent any explanation to the contrary, is that I will need to fill out that form in order to make a request. This is the interpretation that various users of my tool have reached, which I think shows it is a natural interpretation. Can an agency require a person to fill out a particular form in order to have their request processed?
            • What identification information is, absent any special circumstances, necessary for a credit reporter to verify a person's identity? Centrix, quite reasonably, is willing to identify a user with a Driver Licence (I have already agreed with their suggestion to enhance user privacy that I will redevelop the tool in order to only provide the necessary details from the driver licence, and not the image of the licence itself). Illion, on the other hand, sets a higher standard.

            My intention at this time is to refine the tool, to get some clarity about the standard of identification that is actually required, and to put credit reporters on notice in advance of promoting the tool more widely (such as by posting it to various other online forums).

            It is in everyone's interest to get that clarity. I appreciate that your office's usual process is to investigate where there is an allegation of a breach, but I note that the Privacy Commissioner's statutory functions are also:

            • "to make suggestions to any person in relation to any matter that concerns the need for, or the desirability of, action by that person in the interests of the privacy of the individual"
            • "to promote, by education and publicity, an understanding and acceptance of the information privacy principles and of the objects of those principles"
            • "to promote, by education and publicity, an understanding and acceptance of the information privacy principles and of the objects of those principles"

              Warm regards,
              Tyrone.

            • @homegardener: Thanks for keeping us updated! I will keep coming back for this!

              • @Geoffgo: I had a conversation yesterday with an official from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

                The crux of it is that they seem to need to take a neutral-ish view, balancing the strict wording of the Code against the reality of processing lots of requests for the reporters.

                I'm happy to adapt the tool to reduce the burden on reporters provided that the outcome is the same (Centrix has asked, quite reasonably, that the tool provides some particulars from the ID document but not the doc itself).

                But they seemingly won't tell Illion off for their behaviour unless someone formally complains. I'll wait the full ten days and then complain if they don't answer my request.

                I'm probably sinking too much time into the privacy stuff - I've had a lot of suggestions for other tools, and so I'll probably focus primarily on getting some of those done over the next week or so.

  • Awesome idea.

    Could you include some common, basic form letters/scripts that are "official" looking/sounding and contain the relevant law to the situation?

    Thinking things like: letter to homeowner have plants trimmed off property line, how to reject something under the CGA, please pay your share of costs (cross leases, fences, etc), letter to break lease…

    • Thank you for these suggestions. Fences are already on my list (thinking of several documents here, including a discussion checklist for friendly neighbours and a Fencing Act notice generator for less friendly ones). The cross lease one never crossed my mind until my colleague, who has a cross lease section, mentioned it today - great idea. These will take a bit of research/work to get right, but I'm definitely onto them now! The plan is to maybe take a little bit of time over summer to smash some of these out.

      The CGA one should be a pretty easy to do. Thanks for the suggestion - any other requests?

    • Thanks for your feedback. I've now written a tool to deal with several applications of the Consumer Guarantees Act, including:

      • goods that don't turn up / or which turn up late;
      • faulty/poor quality goods;
      • goods that aren't very durable;
      • goods that don't comply with the demo model/sample/description; and
      • goods that aren't fit for purpose.

      I'd love any feedback you have, and I hope that this can be of use to you!

      https://app.rightsguide.nz/interview?i=docassemble.CGAhelper...

      Also, I'm looking into some of your other ideas now too.

  • You're a legend for doing this, thanks. There's so many of these small little things that are incredibly akward to do individually, and can be hard to find specific information about online. Having a sort of one stop site for them is an amazing idea.

  • +4 votes

    I've also sent the following complaint emails to the ACT Party and to Illion New Zealand/the Privacy Commissioner. (Thanks to people who have been sending in denial emails.)


    Illion:

    Hello,

    Complaint to Privacy Commissioner about Illion New Zealand

    I am a lawyer based in Wellington. As a public interest side project, I have recently launched a website providing self-help tools to assist New Zealanders to enforce their various rights. https://www.rightsguide.nz/

    The website is very much a work in progress, but over the next few months I intend to put tools on the site to deal with a very broad range of consumer rights or human rights issues.

    One of the tools that is already up is a tool to request, in one go, your credit file from all of the New Zealand credit reporters (and, optionally, from various credit bureaux in other countries).

    Illion has responded to my valid request (included below) by providing me a copy of their own internal form. I assume that they have therefore declined my original request, which was not made in this form.

    I would be grateful if you could look into this, and potentially to nip this issue in the bud early.

    illion public access centre - I have copied you into this email so that you are kept in the loop. I do not wish to pursue a formal complaint with the Commissioner, and I am willing to withdraw my complaint if you tell me that you will process access requests made via my tool without insisting that users complete your standard form.

    Kind regards,
    Tyrone.


    And the ACT Party:

    Mr Smith,

    Last night I launched a public-interest side project called RightsGuide.NZ. The purpose of this project is to provide a one-stop option for people to enforce their legal, human and consumer rights.

    One of the tools I'm offering at launch is a tool to ask New Zealand political parties what they know about you, inspired by Andrea Vance's interesting article over the weekend about the NZLP's 'Labour Connect' software.

    So far I've just tested it with a small pool of users on the Choice Cheapies (cheapies.nz) website. One of those users has sent me the email below, in which you refuse to process their access request "without the requisite form".

    This is, at best, a misunderstanding. I suspect it's actually a deliberate lie, but it's probably open to you to claim ignorance.

    I don't have any legal relationship with any of my site's users, and despite being a lawyer by profession I am not acting for any of the users of my site. However, I suspect that the user below is unhappy that their request was unlawfully denied (based on the fact they emailed me about it), and I note that the user could probably complain to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

    I intend to write to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner regarding my suspicion that the ACT Party (along with several other political parties who have attempted the same type of response today) is unlawfully refusing access to personal information. If you can tell me by COB tomorrow that you will process access requests that you receive via my site (provided, of course, that any actual requirements in the Privacy Act are made out), then I will not consider it necessary to mention the ACT Party in that letter.

    I have copied in your parliamentary leader and party president. I have also copied in your party's in-house Legal Advisor, who I am pleased to see (by way of his LinkedIn profile) is "Skilled in Privacy". I trust he will be in a position to confirm for you that there is no "requisite form."

    Regards,

    Tyrone

  • Illion just emailed me the same thing. I just replied i cbf haha

  • Hi. Can you do a tool that can help NZ Consumers to protect themselves by using Consumer Law? Nowadays, businesses become clever, they know that if they deny CGA, they will get into trouble. But instead of getting it right(follow the law and help the consumer), they now admit the CGA and gives an unacceptable offer.

    For example, my recent experience with Philips Toothbrush. They admit CGA but they don’t offer free fix, they ask me to buy a new one from their website and give $60 off RRP as the compensation, however even after discount, it’s still expensive than other other places that sell the same model.

    • Thanks for your feedback. I've now written a tool to deal with several applications of the Consumer Guarantees Act, including:

      • goods that don't turn up / or which turn up late;
      • faulty/poor quality goods;
      • goods that aren't very durable;
      • goods that don't comply with the demo model/sample/description; and
      • goods that aren't fit for purpose.

      I'd love any feedback you have, and I hope that this can be of use to you!

      https://app.rightsguide.nz/interview?i=docassemble.CGAhelper...

  • Just want to say thank you for making this free. Also, from memory I think you mentioned that you're a lawyer? It's impressive that you know how to build a website and everything else that you're providing. Most lawyers I've dealt with know nothing about IT.

  • I tried the credit card fee waiver with Kiwibank for my Airpoints Platinum Visa, they told me where to go ("we don't have an offer for you at this time"). I'm guessing they don't actually want me, I always pay it off on time and I moved my mortgage to another bank a couple of years ago.

  • Great tool, and very considerate of you to provide this for free considering the time and effort you have to go through to set this up so thank you very much for this.

    I don't know if this idea would be within the framework of your self help guide, but my mum has been talking about selling her house and the idea of selling privately came up considering tens of thousands you pay for a land agent to sell a house especially during this period where houses are basically selling themselves easily within a month. However my mum is very uncertain and worried about going that route considering she wouldn't know what legally she has to do and if she has to declare anything known or unknown when selling or how to do it properly etc.

    The saving to a seller would be considerable considering what land agents are making off you, so I don't know if there would be a how to, standard forms or something that makes selling privately less of a major hurdle in people's minds. I know that at some point a lawyer would have to be involved, but is just an idea. No worries if its not within the purpose of your website.

    • +1 vote

      I'd need to think pretty carefully about this one, as it could be a bit of a conflict of interest given where I work.

      There are probably some initial documents that could be auto-generated, but conveyancing is the sort of work that you don't want to get wrong.

      I might have a chat to friends of mine who do conveyancing and think about this - but in any case, I think this is probably one to look at once I've got the tool up and running properly with lots of other content.

  • Hey it's a me a mouse! Just letting you know I'm glad you're making the resources free for everyone to use, more power to the people and friendly rodents!

  • Thanks for the tool.I have managed to get my BNZ Platinum Visa fees waived using your template. It was due on the 4th of November.

    Great Work!

  • I need some volunteers to test a few more tools and provide feedback. If you're interested, would you please leave a comment below or flick me a PM?