Nov 1,2011 / News / Legal Brief

The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) was introduced into law earlier this year to assist consumers to enforce their rights.

However, rights need to be balanced with responsibilities. In fact, one of the aims of the CPA is “to promote responsible consumer behaviour”. Elements of “responsible consumer behaviour” include:

1. READ

You have the right to receive information in a way that is understandable. But, you still need to read agreements, including the terms and conditions, before signing. If you are unsure about anything, you need to ask questions so nothing is unclear. It will be too late to say “I didn’t understand what I signed” after the agreement has been signed.

2. REACT

Like a cavity in your tooth, letters from creditors are not going to go away. The longer you ignore them, the worse the situation will get. It is your responsibility to react to these letters because (in some instances), if you do not, you effectively give up certain of your consumer rights.

For example, by law, credit providers have to give you the option of seeking help from a debt counsellor before they can take action against you. If you ignore one of their notices (for ten business days or more) the credit provider can take you to court.

If you receive any kind of legal document, such as a summons or notice of motion, react as quickly as possible because you are given a limited number of days to respond. The amount of time you have will be in the document. You should take this seriously because if you do not, a court judgment could be taken against you without you being there.

3. RECORD

Write as much as you can down – from simple details such as the name of the person that you spoke to at a consumer complaints desk, to more important details such as discussions and resulting arrangements. If you ever have a legal problem at a later stage, it will be far easier to prove the facts if you have them in writing. The CPA recognises how important it is to have documentary proof and states that a supplier must provide you with a complete sales record of the transaction.

4. RECTIFY

Correct errors timeously. If you see something strange, for example an amount on your statement or a deduction on your payslip, deal with it as it happens. It will be far more difficult to reverse charges or deductions after a few months.

5. REVIEW

Check quotations and prices before accepting them. According to the CPA, you are entitled to a written quotation for any repair or maintenance services over R1 in value. It is your responsibility to review this quotation and authorise the work to be done. The CPA also requires prices to be displayed and may not force a consumer to pay a price higher than the displayed price.

6. RECONSIDER

Consumers often get caught up in the excitement of a sale, particularly when the goods or services are marketed to directly by telephone, email or in person. The CPA allows you to reconsider purchase made as a result of direct marketing. But, it is your responsibility to do so, and inform the supplier of your decision in writing, within five business days from the date on which either the transaction was concluded or the goods were delivered to you.

7. RELY

Consumers have the right to complain to the relevant Ombudsman of certain service industries (e.g. Banking, Credit, Motor, Press, Short and Long Term Insurance), who will try to mediate between you and the supplier to solve the issue. It is your responsibility to choose respectable suppliers that are governed by these bodies if you wish to rely on this option.

8. RESOLVE

It is your responsibility to try to resolve your consumer rights issue with the supplier directly. Certain resources will only be accessible once you have done so. As an example, the Credit Ombud will only investigate your dispute after you have taken it to the credit provider or credit bureau concerned, and given them twenty business days to attempt to resolve the dispute.

9. RESIST

Think about the consequences of overspending – personal, financial and environmental – and resist the temptation. Be aware of the impact of your consumer behaviour on your own pocket and the community around you.

10. RELAY

Tell others what you learn about consumer rights and responsibilities. The National Consumer Forum highlights the following consumer responsibility: “organize together as consumers to develop the strength and influence and to promote and protect our interests”. The CPA allows for recognised consumer protection groups to act and protect the interests of consumers individually or collectively.

Know your rights, know your responsibilities and empower others to do the same.

Werksmans runs a weekly Pro Bono Consumer Protection Clinic. The clinic is held every Wednesday at the offices of ProBono.Org (Constitution Hill) from 9h00 until 12h00.

We offer free advice to low income consumers (earning less than R7000 per household per month before expenses) on consumer rights issues including queries relating to contracts, policies, court judgments, administration and emolument orders.

To book an appointment at the clinic contact Charity on 011 339 6080.