Consumer Protection Act: Buying Goods under the Consumer Protection Act
- The Act aims for greater consistency in enforcement and legislation concerning commercial transactions
- Consumers are entitled to accountability and disclosure of information on the part of suppliers
- Responsibility lies with the provider to confirm a product has not caused damages
- If your consumer rights are violated you need not seek compensation in court but instead may go through the National Consumer Tribunal, among other bodies
- A company may not renew your contract without contacting you in writing first
Section 27 of the Constitution:
“Everyone has the right to have access to social security, including, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependants, appropriate social assistance. The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights”
While every attempt has been made to ensure the information published here is accurate, the Black Sash does not take responsibility for any loss or damage that may arise out of the reliance on or use of this information. The contents do not constitute legal advice. This information sheet was last updated in March 2011.
The Consumer Protection Act (which came into force on 1 April 2011) seeks to protect consumers from unfair business practices, inferior products, and false or misleading marketing.
So, what are your rights under the Act when it comes to the GOODS you buy?
Products have to show contents and trade details. For example, if you buy a bottle of cool drink, the country of origin and the presence of genetically modified ingredients must be on the label. If a South African consumer suffers loss or injury because a foreign-made product was wrongly or inadequately labelled, both the local retailer and the foreign supplier could be held liable.
Also, if a product has a risk of an unusual nature that you as an ordinary consumer wouldn’t be expected to know about, the supplier is compelled to bring these warnings and instructions to your attention in plain and understandable language.
Every foreign company that sells goods and services destined for South African consumer markets will have to comply with the Act, and if in breach of its product liability or labelling provisions, could be sued for damages.
The Act places the burden of proof on the supplier and not, as in the past, on the consumer. Strict liability, as this is known, means that the onus is on the supplier to prove that the product was not defective. The consumer only has to show harm or loss and that this was caused by the product concerned. This gives you greater legal clout when lodging product liability damages claims.
Clear product pricing
If you see a promotion for milk at R5, but have to pay R7 at the till, it is your right to pay the lowest amount. It is illegal for anyone to hide or fake a price.
Companies must now offer you a “cooling off” period to cancel an advance reservation, booking or order. This means you can decide to cancel your order after you’ve had time to think about your decision. All you have to do is notify the company in writing, and they’ll have 15 days to pay you back in full.
If goods have already been delivered to you, you’ll have to return them before you get your money back. This applies only where you bought goods in response to direct marketing, which is when things are advertised to you directly, in person, in the mail, or electronically.
The Act makes it illegal for companies to automatically renew contracts when they expire. From now on, companies will have to contact you – in writing – between 40 and 80 business days before your contract expires. They have to give you the option to continue your contract, change its terms or cancel it. The contract will continue on a month-to-month basis until you make your choice.
You will also be able to cancel contracts at any time. No more waiting for the full 24 months to end. If you’re unhappy, you can give the company 20 days’ notice – in writing. While you won’t have to pay the full value of the contract, you will still have to pay anything you owe the company up to the date of cancellation. The company might also charge you a cancellation fee but of no more than 10 percent of the amount still owed.
Companies must also use plain and simple language when explaining a contract, or terms and conditions. It is the duty of the supplier of any goods or services to tell you all the conditions of a contract that can cause problems later. For example, before signing a cell phone contract, you should know that you have to pay for one month after cancellation. Suppliers and service providers with whom you hold contracts, must also communicate with you when they increase prices.
Especially in the car industry, this means buying it as you see it. Under the Act, suppliers have to let you know of all defects – both obvious and hidden – of your purchase, and you have to agree to buying the product in that condition. The Act specifically identifies the consumer’s rights to good quality products, in good working order, free of any substantial defects, and fit for their purpose.
Examples of goods under the Act would include:
- Anything that is marketed for human consumption (such as food, petrol).
- Anything tangible or touchable
- Any literature, music, photographs, films, games, information, data, software, codes or other intangible goods or a licence to use the product (a software licence).
- A legal interest in land or other immovable property.
- Gas, water, electricity etc
What can you do if these rights are violated?
The Consumer Protection Act aims to promote consumer activism by making provision for the accreditation of consumer groups tasked with lodging complaints on behalf of consumers, as well as making available support for activities, such as consumer advice, education, publications, research and alternative dispute resolution through mediation or conciliation.
As such, the Act gave rise to the establishment of the National Consumer Commission, a body assigned to investigate consumer complaints, as well as the National Consumer Tribunal, which was created by the National Credit Act in September 2006, and is responsible for the adjudication of violations and transgressions of the National Credit Act and the Consumer Protection Act.
The Consumer Protection Act does not restrict you to suing suppliers in court, which means you can avoid paying expensive legal fees. The avenues of recourse available to you include:
- The National Consumer Tribunal;
- The National Consumer Commission
- The appropriate ombudsman;
- Alternative dispute resolution (such as mediators or arbitrators);
- A provincial consumer affairs court or criminal court.
However, the Act does not stipulate which of these avenues you must approach first.
A complaint can be lodged by:
- Anyone who uses the goods or services that are the subject of a complaint;
- Anyone who is authorised to act on your behalf if you cannot act in your own name;
- Anyone who acts as a member of, or in the interest of, a group or class of affected persons;
- Anyone who acts in the public interest – with the permission of the National Consumer Tribunal or the court to which the complaint is directed; and
- An association that acts in the interest of its members.
NATIONAL CONSUMER COMMISSION
(previously the Office of Consumer Protection in the Department of Trade and Industry or DTI):
Customer Contact Centre: 0861 843 384
National Consumer Commission: (012) 394 1436 / 1558 /1076
The DTI, National Consumer Commission, Consumer Complaints, Private Bag X84, Pretoria 0001
Complaint forms can be downloaded at http://www.dti.gov.za/ccrd/complaint forms.html
NATIONAL CONSUMER TRIBUNAL (NCT):
Contact Centre: (012) 663 5615
NCT Website: www.thenct.org.za
OMBUDSMAN and REGULATORY BODIES
FIVE Ombuds offices and two regulatory bodies (all in the FinanciaT Services Sector) have joined forces and initiated one share call number, 0860 OMBUDS (0860 662 837), for consumers to contact: The Credit Ombud, The Banking Ombud, The Long term Insurance Ombud, The Short Term Insurance Ombud, The Financial Services Board, The FATS Ombud and the National Credit Regulator.