When will Lotto shops open? Where can I get my dentures repaired? What should I do about a gannet tangled in a fishing line?

As phone consultations become the new normal for the Citizens Advice Bureau, the questions are getting curlier.

Volunteers report everything from people concerned neighbours are chopping down boundary hedges while no one can stop them, to a tourist who needed help after she arrived at her accommodation to find drunk hosts and no lock on her bedroom door.

Kate Anderson, general manager of the 10 bureaus across the central Auckland isthmus, says the usually face-to-face service is now operating entirely via its 0800 phone number.


"We take calls from all across New Zealand, and from overseas, on issues as diverse as price gouging on hand sanitiser - $35 for a 500ml bottle in a chemist in Hamilton - to domestic violence, suicide threats and how much the Bitcoin is worth today."

On the Wednesday before the Coronavirus-driven Level 4 lockdown, the service received 1200 calls - 380 per cent more than normal. Volumes have since settled, but consultations have been averaging 20 to 28 minutes, or 40 per cent longer than usual. Anderson says the complexity of issues people want help with is increasing, along with client anxiety levels.

"There's the uncertainty of what's going to happen, compounded by the social isolation that people are experiencing."

Common concerns focus on jobs, housing and food.

"Lots and lots of employment issues. A lot of inquiries for food parcels, all around the country. Relationship issues, where people are refusing to share custody during the lockdown, and a lot of tenancy issues - someone who signed up for a tenancy that was supposed to start mid-lockdown and now can't move, but they've given notice where they are.

"We've got situations with flatmates, where one person's name is on the tenancy agreement, but a flatmate hasn't come back from overseas or they are in lockdown somewhere else and they're not paying the rent."

Anderson says every response is tailored to an individual's circumstance, "which vary significantly, and things are changing so rapidly . . . our volunteers are not trained to know the answers, they're trained to find the answers. We say never trust Google, because we've got a database of really good information that is kept up to date and that is changing every day with the new legislation being brought in".

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Dr Michelle Dickinson aka Nanogirl explains coronavirus for kids. Video / Supplied

Recent research found 10 per cent of Citizens Advice Bureau clients were "digitally excluded" with no access to the internet, or no literacy to navigate it.


"So we're getting quite a lot of those, people who can't order groceries online, or they don't have the ability to pay for groceries online, because they usually pay cash."

Citizens Advice Bureau lines are jammed with queries from those looking for answers during the lockdown. Photo / File
Citizens Advice Bureau lines are jammed with queries from those looking for answers during the lockdown. Photo / File

Nationally, 2400 volunteers work for Citizens Advice Bureau. Some of the more unusual calls they've faced this week?

"A man in Nelson who had broken his dentures and couldn't get them repaired. A woman who found a gannet tangled up in fishing line on a West Auckland beach and wanted to know if the bird rescue place was open . . . a client who wanted to know when Lotto shops would be opening again as he does not have a card which allows him to buy online!"

Anderson says: "We are there to help. Citizens Advice Bureau is there to help people understand their rights and obligations and to make sure that no one is disadvantaged through not being able to understand what their next steps are. We've got people on the end of the phones who can help you work out what your next step should be."

And, she says, if you really do want to chop down the boundary hedge your first step should be "to talk to your neighbour". Presumably, from at least two metres away.

• Contact CAB by freephone 0800 367 222, email and live chat.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website