What your consumer rights are when a business closes down 


When a business changes ownership the old owner might make arrangements to ensure that their customers are not left out of pocket. This can include giving advance warning so that customers have time to complete their layby agreements or use up their gift vouchers.

When a business closes down because it is unable to pay its debts, it usually means that it is in receivership, under voluntary administration or in liquidation (these terms are explained on the business.govt.nz website). This often means that we consumers don’t get much advance warning - so we might not have the opportunity to spend our gift voucher (for example) while they are still being accepted.

If you are in this situation you may be able to make a claim for what is owed, but you are likely to fall into the category of unsecured creditors.

Unsecured creditors only get money after the liquidator (whose job it is to sell off business assets in order to pay its debts), secured creditors, employees and Inland Revenue have been paid (and only if you have registered your claim).

Below we discuss what your rights are when a business closes down, and how to get back any money that it owes you.


Gift vouchers

If you have an unused gift voucher with the business then you are in effect an unsecured creditor. This means you may be able to claim back the value of the voucher, if there is enough money left over from the sale of assets after other creditors have been paid.

If the business is not yet in liquidation, it’s worth holding onto your voucher in case the business is sold to a new owner who is willing to honour it or the business is otherwise able to continue trading.


Deposits on goods or services


If you had put down a deposit with the business before it closed down, then you can try to claim the money back as an unsecured creditor. This is also the case if you paid for goods via mail order or online, but the business closed down before you received what you ordered.


Laybys

If your layby payments are up-to-date, you have the right to pay for and collect your item within a reasonable time. However it would pay to do so promptly as it is possible the business will run out of stock. 

Goods on layby must be given out in date order of the signed agreements i.e. someone who started a layby three months ago can collect their goods before someone whose layby started one month ago.

If your payments are up to date, but the business aren’t able to complete your layby (e.g. because there is no stock left), you can make a claim for a refund (see What to do to get your money back, below). Your claim will have priority over unsecured creditors.


Goods bought on credit

If you bought goods on credit then your credit contract is most likely with a finance company rather than the business you bought the goods from. This means you won’t lose your goods and should continue to make your finance payments.


What to do to get your money back

If you are owed money by a company (its official name will end with “Limited” or “Ltd”) that has closed, contact the receiver or liquidator to register your claim. You will need to put your claim in writing and provide evidence of what you are owed.

You have a couple of other options if you are trying to get money back from an unused gift card/voucher which was bought from a third party (e.g. another retailer), or if the voucher was paid for by credit card:
  • If the gift card was bought from a third party then you can try to seek a refund from that retailer. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act you have the right to ask for a remedy from a trader if there is a problem with the goods (i.e. the gift card).
  • If the gift card/voucher was paid for by credit card then the credit card holder can contact their credit card company and try to get a chargeback and refund.
If the business was not a registered company then the trader will be personally responsible for returning your money. You can claim money back at the Disputes Tribunal or Court (unless the trader is declared a bankrupt). General information about claiming back money owed to you is on our Recovery of debts page.


Faulty goods

If the business closes down after something you bought from them turns out to be faulty, you might be able to get a remedy (repair, replacement or refund) from the manufacturer or distributor. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act you are entitled to make a claim to the seller, manufacturer or distributor for a remedy if there is a problem with the goods.


Goods under repair

If you have goods that are with the business for repair you should be able to get them back but you will need to be able to identify them. If you owe money for repairs they have completed then you will still have to pay it.