Consumer Protection Act: Services
- 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
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 SERVICES you receive?
Marketing and Privacy
According to the new Act, salespeople cannot bombard you with calls and leaflets at certain times of the day and night, and on certain days of the year. You can also demand that any company that contacts you - by phone calls and SMS - remove your name and details from their database. If you have opted out and still get called, the company may be liable for a fine.
When filling out a contract or membership form, online or offline, you must be given the choice to specify that you don’t want to be bothered by advertising calls. You can also opt out by replying to a marketing SMS with the word STOP. You can also put your name on a blocking registry to prevent telemarketers from contacting you in the first place.
Bait marketing (the advertising of products that are unavailable as a ploy to attract consumers) is prohibited by the new Act. Advertisers cannot offer products or services if they don’t reasonably expect to satisfy the likely demand. For example, a shop cannot run a promotion for a cheap TV in July if stock will only be available in August.
Companies are not allowed to charge you an exorbitant R5 or R10 to enter an SMS or MMS competition. They must stick to the usual network rates.
Returns, Refunds and Repairs
You have the right to return unsafe or defective items within six months of purchase or delivery. You are entitled to return the item to the supplier - without any penalty, at the supplier's risk and expense - if it is defective or not what you were sold. YOU can also decide whether you want a refund, a replacement or a repair - not the company. But remember, this applies only to the general wear and tear of your appliances, not gross negligence on your part. The supplier may charge you a small amount to repackage the product.
If you opt for a repair and the product fails again within three months, the supplier is obliged to replace the item or refund you what you paid for it. The manufacturer, retailer, importer and distributor will all be responsible for broken, bad quality or unsafe goods. For example, if you buy a stove and one plate doesn’t work. You take it back to the shop, who says it’s the manufacturer’s fault and will take a long time to get fixed because it was made in China. You are now be able to demand an immediate replacement or a refund from the shop for this or any goods bought after 25 April 2010.
All repairs must be quoted. Companies have to provide you with an estimate for the work – which you must approve – and cannot charge you more than that estimate. If more work is required above and beyond the estimate, they first have to get the go-ahead from you. Companies also can’t charge you for preparing their quote, unless you’ve agreed to that. Also, if you get a quote to have your house painted within a week, not only must the paint and job be of good quality, but if It is not finished within a week, the company will have to let you know beforehand.
Consumers are also entitled to refunds if goods do not perform in a way they were made to believe they would; or if goods are inherently faulty and they were not aware of this at the time of purchase; or if the goods turn out to be not the same as those shown to them prior to delivery.
Same quality and service for all consumers
If you enter a shop and get treated differently from someone else because you are not dressed like them or are not the same sex, age, sexual orientation or race as them, you can complain to the National Consumer Commission to get your rights enforced.
Goods must be delivered at an agreed date, time and place. If not, you will be free to accept or cancel the agreement – it’s your choice. Companies are also obliged to deliver goods that match the sample or description of the product. You have the right to examine your purchases before accepting them, and reject them if you’re not happy. If you didn’t get a chance to examine the product and are unhappy with it, it can be returned at the supplier’s expense.
The supplier is entitled to charge you a “reasonable” cancellation fee if you cancel a booking or reservation. The “reasonableness” however depends on how early you cancel and if the supplier can fill your now-empty spot. If, however, the booking is cancelled because of the death or hospitalisation of the person who made the booking, no cancellation fee can be charged.
Overselling and overbooking are illegal
If you book a flight which is overbooked when you arrive to check in, you can insist on being put on the flight because that is what you paid for. If it is impossible, you can demand a refund with interest from the date of payment plus compensation for the money lost for missing work. This doesn’t apply if the airline has informed you of the problem beforehand or if the situation was beyond their control.
Examples of services would include:
- Any work performed by one person for the direct or indirect benefit of another person;
- The provision of education, information or advice or consultation (except if exempted);
- Banking services;
- Provision of any accommodation or sustenance (hotels, restaurants, take-away outlets etc);
- Any entertainment or similar product;
- Access to any electronic communication infrastructure (internet);
- Access to or use of any premises or other property (except for a lease in terms of the National Credit Act);
- Even stokvels, saving clubs or a church fete would fall under the Act as long as “goods or services” are supplied to its members.
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.