Ahead of World Consumer Rights Day on 15th March, the National Consumer Commission has urged consumers to learn and understand their rights.
The National Consumer Commission (NCC) in South Africa is responsible for the investigations of consumer complaints. Spokesperson Trevor Hattingh defines a consumer as any person that has the ability to buy something which is marketed by businesses.
Hattingh explained that every sector in the market place has laws protecting consumers, but the overarching one is the Consumer Protection Act. This outlines consumer rights, which include:
1. Right to equality in market place
2. Right to privacy
3. Right to choose
4. Right to disclosure and information
5. Right to fair and responsible marketing
6. Right to a fair and honest dealing
7. The right to fair and reasonable terms and conditions
8. Right to fair, good quality and safety.
Hattingh pointed out that majority of the complaint come from the retail, telecommunication and motor vehicle sectors. In the Retail space, Hattingh said, mostly relates to returning items. Telecommunication complaints includes data disappearance, connectivity and overbilling. While Motor vehicle complaints includes denial of refunding or the sale vehicles not in good or working order.
The spokesperson advised that consumers must always insist on a copy of transactional documentation.
“I must emphasize that whenever you buy something: please insist on a till slip, even when buying a bread at the corner shop. You are entitled to it- it is your right. It is the one piece of documentation that we take for granted that can assist you if anything happens. If you get sick from eating something for example, that till slip can get you relief in court.”
He further advised against telephonic transactions as there is seldom a paper trail.
“In the absence of a physical contract, the law provides that you are entitled to a copy of that recording. But this (only applies) if a problem arises out of that transaction.”
Hattingh cautioned against consumers who sign contracts without reading them thoroughly. He said many find themselves locked in lifelong contracts because the salespeople got them excited about the product and insisted that there is no cause for concern when signing. He strongly advised consumers to READ contracts carefully.
“Hundreds of consumers come to us and literally cry that they’ve signed their (lives) away. They say they never read the fine print because the salesperson said, “just sign where all the asterixis are” and they “basically summarized what is written there”. Never do that. Take the document, read it in the comfort of your own home and sign it when you are done. “
He warned that salespeople often just have a job to do.
“People need to take their time because the salespeople don’t care. At the end of the day they want you to sign just to get their salary or commission. If you don’t understand the terminology being used take it back or get someone to explain what is meant. Know what you’re signing for.”
Hattingh highlighted that many run the risk of being exploited because they do not understand their rights because those who do know cannot enforce it.
“You need to stand up and enforce your rights. You are the person that is experiencing exploitation in the market place if you don’t claim your rights and enforce them, no one will do that for you.”
He explained that if consumers understand their rights and insist on quality products, then the supplier the supplier will lose its demand.
“If consumers demand quality then the power will shift, and businesses would lose their ability to dictate prices. You’ll also find more competitiveness if consumers know and enforce (their) rights.”
Hattingh explained that the commission provides consumers with a complaint form that needs to be filled out. Consumers “state their case” and return the form, when a complaint is received, along with the relevant evidence.
The commission then identifies the sector where the complaint emanates from, assesses whether they have jurisdiction and then intervenes. This intervention will be to contact supplier to acknowledge the complaint and have them remedy the situation as soon as possible.
But, according to Hattingh, suppliers often resist saying they will not refund the complete product. In this case the matter will be referred to the industry ombudsman to mediate and bring the parties together to negotiate an amicable solution. He noted that the last resort is for the matter to be investigated via court.
“If this does not pan out, the matter will be escalated into an investigation which will appear before a tribunal. This body will look at the facts of the case on both sides. A judgement will then be issued against the relevant party.”
Hattingh advised to always check “best before dates” and be careful about buying products past that date.
The National Consumer Commission can be contacted on 012 428 7000