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BUSINESS MAVERICK 168: A decade of the Consumer Protection Act: What you need to know to protect your rights

As the world sits on the cusp of what is hopefully going to be a global rebirth, it’s not surprising that opinions are so divided on how much and how consumer spending is likely to unfold during the years ahead. (Photo: Rawpixel)

It has been 10 years since the Consumer Protection Act came into force in April 2011, entrenching the rights of consumers as had never been done before. DM168 rounded up six things you need to know to ensure that your rights are protected.

Your right to choose a supplier or product:

How many times have you been on the verge of buying something when the sales assistant says, “You have to buy this insurance/warranty now when you pay for the product”? This is commonly referred to as bundling, and goods cannot be sold conditional to such purchase. If you are buying, for example, a lounge suite on credit and you need credit life assurance, you can choose to take out the life assurance with a different supplier of your choice. More often than not, you are likely to have a life insurance policy in place already, which could easily cover the cost of the item you are buying on credit. If that is the case, you can provide the supplier with proof that you already have such life assurance.

Your right to cancel a purchase made as a result of direct marketing:

If, for example, your cellphone provider contacts you with the offer of a new cellphone contract, you are entitled to a five-day cooling-off period. This means that you can cancel the contract without any penalty within five business days, starting from either the day on which you accept the offer or on the day you receive any goods related to the direct marketing, whichever is later.

Your right to sue under strict liability:

This protection allows you to sue if you are injured due to a defective product. According to Neville Melville, author of The Consumer Protection Act Made Easy, you can choose which party in the distribution chain you want to sue, if not all the parties. For example, you could sue the retailer who sold you the product or the manufacturer who made it or both. But you will have to prove that the product was unsafe or defective, and caused your injury or loss. Your damages claim must be lodged within three years of:

A claim cannot be made more than 10 years after the product was put into circulation.

Fair and reasonable terms and conditions:

According to Bregman Moodley Attorneys, terms that are considered unfair or unreasonable include:

Any term that is excessively one-sided in favour of the supplier to your detriment as a consumer; or

Any term that is so adverse it is considered inequitable and unfair to you.

In addition, any term that limits the supplier’s risk in any way must be written in plain language and brought to your attention before you sign a contract or waiver. For example, when you sign a form for admission to a hospital, the desk clerk is now required to point out if you are waiving all liability when you sign the form.

If the National Consumer Commission or a court finds that a term or provision of an agreement is unfair, the court and the NCC have the power to cancel that term, alter it in your favour or declare the entire agreement null and void.

Returning or repairing goods:

If you buy an item such as a kettle and it breaks within six months, you have the right to ask the supplier to either repair or replace it or give you a full refund. However, there are a few notes to remember.

You cannot return the item if you were made aware of a defect at the time of purchase and you chose to buy it anyway.

You cannot return the item simply because you changed your mind. You have to show that it is either not working or not fit for the purpose for which you bought it.

Arinda Truter, an associate at Dingley, Marshall, Lewin says you can also insist on a cash refund rather than store credit or vouchers; or you can ask for a similar item as a replacement at no additional cost to yourself. “Some stores have specific seven-day or 14-day return policies. However, under the CPA, these policies have no basis and are not enforceable when it comes to an item that is defective or unsafe,” she says.

The expiry dates on gift vouchers:

Under the CPA, gift vouchers are valid for a minimum of three years and suppliers have the discretion to extend that period. So, a voucher cannot be valid for only six months or a year. Goldberg and De Villiers Attorneys advise that the voucher should specify the service such as a massage or a pedicure rather than a monetary amount, because the value of a service or particular item can depreciate over three years. For example, a pedicure that cost R100 a few years ago could cost you about R300 today.

Consumer complaints double during lockdown

Magauta Mphahlela, the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud, says that, in the 12 months of 2020, her office received 12,926 complaints, reflecting an almost 50% increase on the year before.

“Lockdown saw a sizeable move to online shopping and, with it, inevitable issues as e-commerce platforms experienced teething problems as well as higher than anticipated volumes, compounded by staff shortages due to illness or the need to maintain social distancing,” she says.

In 2020, a total amount of R2.7-million was refunded to consumers, including a single refund of R55,000 for a lounge suite that was found to be of poor quality. The highest number of complaints was related to defective goods, cancellations, late deliveries and poor handling of complaints by companies.

You can contact the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud in the following ways:

DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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