Protect your rights

2011-04-23 09:59

1 I bought a product following a direct marketing promotion, and now I don’t want it any more. Am I stuck with it?
You have a right to a cooling-off period after purchase, which means you can cancel within five business days and return the goods.

The supplier is obliged to return your payment within 15 business days.

This applies even if you have received the goods, but remember that a cancellation charge can be charged for the period for which you’ve had the goods and the condition you return them in. It’s safer not to unwrap until you are sure you want them.

2 I’m not happy with a product I bought from a supplier and he hasn’t let me exchange it. I want to complain. Do I have to go to court?
The office for consumer protection is now known as the National Consumer Commission. Consumers can lodge complaints with the new consumer commission on the number: 0860 266 786 or you can send a fax to 0861 515 259.

The department of trade and industry website (www.thedti.gov.za) has the contact details for the commission as well as the provincial consumer office in each of the nine provinces.

Consumer courts are being set up in each province. They will hear your complaint for free.

3 I have the right to inspect goods; does this mean I can unpack them before I buy?
Your right to inspect goods only kicks in if you are basing your decision on seeing a sample or display goods and once you have agreed to buy the goods.

Once you have bought them, you can unwrap and then return them if they do not match the sample or display goods. You have six months to return a defective item.

4 If I take my car for a service, how do I know I won’t receive a terrifying bill?
It is illegal for a supplier to charge you for any goods, repair or maintenance services unless they have given you, in advance, an estimate (quote) which you accept, or you pre-authorise work up to a maximum value and the cost does not exceed that amount – and you can refuse the estimate.

In addition, the supplier cannot charge a fee for preparing that estimate, unless that cost was also first disclosed and accepted by the consumer.

5 I want to cancel a contract. What are the implications?
You can cancel a fixed-term agreement at any time, as long as you give the supplier 20 business days’ notice, in writing.

If you still owe the supplier money, you do need to settle up.

Automatic renewals of fixed-term contracts have fallen away.

The onus is on the supplier to write to you between 40 and 80 business days before your contract expires to tell you what options are available to you and what material changes apply if the agreement is renewed.

If you don’t let the supplier know that you wish to cancel, the contract will continue on a month-to-month basis until such time as you give notice or renew for a further fixed term.

6 What about cancelling advance bookings or reservations?
You can cancel, but you might still have to pay a reasonable deposit if you cancel an advance booking at short notice. Note that in the event of hospitalisation, for example, the supplier obviously can’t charge you – this would be neither fair nor reasonable.

7 How can I stop people from sending me SMSes telling me to sign up for stuff?
In future, you can simply put your name down on the national exclusion register, which marketers must check before sending any direct marketing you have not consented to receiving.

You can even display a sign such as “no junk mail” on your post box and then no person can place or attach marketing material in or near it. Even if you have not refused, you may only be called at home between 8am and 7pm from Monday to Friday, 9am to 12pm on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays or public holidays.

The register won’t come into effect until the trade and industry minister declares it operational. It will need to incorporate lots of information, so it’s not ready to be rolled out just yet.

8 I was bumped off a plane recently even though I had booked my ticket months in advance – is that fair?
It is illegal for a supplier to accept payment if they do not reasonably intend to supply the goods or services, or if they intend to supply goods or services which are materially different.

That means airlines may no longer over-book their flights. If that happens, you can claim a refund, together with interest and compensation for any costs which you incurred.

9 Does voetstoots still apply?
It does if you agree to it. You have a right to receive goods which are reasonably suitable for their intended purpose, which are of good quality, in good working order, free of defects, usable and durable for a reasonable period of time.

However, these provisions will not apply if you are informed that goods are offered in a specific condition and you agree to accept the goods in that condition. Suppliers still have to specifically inform you of all defects.

10 I signed a contract but I don’t really understand what it said.
The act requires that agreements are written in plain language. It also states that prices and terms must be reasonable, so even if you do agree but it turns out that the terms of the contract were unfair, the contract could be overturned. If there are any conditions in the agreement that limit the supplier’s responsibility, they must be brought to your attention.

11 I ordered a piece of glass to repair a window. The supplier arrived three days late and I had already ordered from another company as it was urgent. Now they say I must pay for the glass.
Unless you agree otherwise, the supplier must deliver the goods or service to you at an agreed date, time, place and cost. If the supplier does not do so, you may cancel the agreement without penalty and, in some cases, retain the goods without payment.

When a supplier delivers goods to you, he must give you a reasonable chance to examine them. If you do not get that opportunity, you may return the goods and get a full refund.

12 I have a complaint about a short-term insurance product – is this relevant to the Consumer Protection Act (CPA)?
For now, the short-term and long-term insurance acts govern insurance, which means insurance will fall outside the ambit of the CPA for the next 18 months. If the government hasn’t amended these two acts to bring them up to speed with the CPA by then, insurance will then have to comply with the CPA.

» Information supplied by Candice Holland, an associate director at Deloitte, and Cathryn Bode, a partner at Shepstone & Wylie Attorneys

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