Mount Maunganui car dealer and Fair Go basher Alan Spiers has been fined in a ruling made today at Auckland District Court following charges relating numerous breaches of the Fair Trading Act.
Mount Maunganui finance company MAC Warranties Ltd has been fined $42,250 in the Auckland District Court for 17 breaches of the Act. MAC's director and shareholder Alan Spiers has been fined $22,750 for a further 11 breaches.
MAC has also agreed to provide $182,000 compensation to affected customers.
The charges, brought by the Commerce Commission, related to misleading claims made between 2008 and 2011 when MAC repossessed and sold 79 vehicles used as security for its loans.
Mr Spiers also came under fire when he was convicted of assaulting Fair Go reporter and present Gordon Harcourt in 2011 in what was a highly publicised case.
Under repossession laws, MAC was required to make all reasonable efforts to obtain the best price when it sold the vehicles. However following repossession of each vehicle, MAC sold the car to its sister company Mount Autos Limited (of which Mr Spiers was also a director), implying to its customers that it had taken reasonable steps to get the best price, when it had not. MAC either sold the vehicles to Mt Autos at a price it had set itself, or simply used a third party valuation when other steps were available to get the best price.
MAC also sold 29 of these vehicles to Mount Autos before it had the right to do so. Under repossession laws, MAC could not sell those vehicles until at least 15 days after debtors had been served with a post-possession notice. This 15 day period gives debtors the chance to catch up on outstanding payments and get the vehicle back. In each case MAC sold the vehicles to Mount Autos within the 15 day period.
MAC also told two of its customers that their repossessed vehicles were "wrecks," or had been sold to the wreckers, when they were not. They had instead been sold to Mount Autos which reconditioned the vehicles and on-sold them.
In delivering her decision on MAC and Mr Spiers, Judge Cunningham accepted the Commission's submission that this was reckless behaviour and broke the companies own rules regarding the valuation of vehicles.
"These misrepresentations were important, particularly because they were made to people on low incomes and therefore in socio-economic groups less likely to be apprised of their rights."
"This sort of recklessness will not be tolerated and will incur significant monetary penalties," said Judge Cunningham.
Commerce Commission Consumer Manager Stuart Wallace said this was unacceptable business practice.
"The credit repossession laws are intended to ensure that businesses that seize property do so in strict compliance with the law and recognising debtor's rights. The conduct of MAC and Mr Spiers fell well short of what was required by law."
"Making matters worse, many of MAC's customers were beneficiaries or on low incomes. They may not have known their rights or have been a position to exercise them. They would have been heavily dependent on the accuracy of the information provided by MAC, when it was not correct in a number of respects."
"In some cases this became a vehicle-go-round. Mt Autos sold cars to people who took funding from MAC. When MAC repossessed those vehicles they were sold back to Mt Autos and then resold to another customer, again financed by MAC."
"Parliament is in the process of reforming the credit repossession laws. The Commission is keeping a close eye on the repossession industry, and will continue to take action where appropriate. Penalties can be significant if businesses get it wrong," said Mr Wallace.
Steps have been taken to notify all affected debtors of any compensation/account credit due to them as a result of the conduct outlined above. However, if any of MAC's customers are uncertain as to whether or not their vehicle was one of the 79 to which the prosecution related, they can contact the Commerce