It's been a while since the Consumer Protection Act became fully effective. In April it will be three years and yet every few months I find a new company, store or organisation with their own set of rules which fly in the face of the CPA.
My latest find has to do with vouchers. I recently got into an argument with a company’s "customer service" centre about a voucher which they were not able to honour on weekends because they were fully booked but sold to me any way while advertising that bookings could be made from Monday to Sunday. Like most people in the working class of this country, I work from Monday to Friday and so weekends are my only free time with which to do what I like. After purchasing the voucher from the company I promptly called to book for the first available Saturday only to be told that they were fully booked on Saturdays until mid-April (the voucher was only valid for two months and conveniently expired on 31 March). And Sundays? Sorry but Sunday is the most popular day of the week so again they are fully booked until April.
Now I have two issues with this. Firstly I have never seen more than five or six cars in their car park on weekends and unless each car is transporting four or five people, which is highly unlikely, this “sudden” demand for their services seems a bit out of character. I suspect that they are selling the vouchers to increase their mid-week client intake which is understandably poor as the average person has a job to go to. They entice customers into buying the voucher by marketing them as redeemable any day of the week and obviously at a reduced price, hence the need for the voucher in the first place. There is no way for me to challenge that they are not actually full on weekends, I just have to go with what they say. My second issue is that if they are not able to accommodate me on weekends as they have advertised then they should be obliged to offer me a refund. They instead suggested that they “understand” that I am not able to come in during the week and that I should pass the voucher on to someone who can as the voucher is transferable. There is nothing else they can do as the voucher carries no monetary value.
Frustrated by their “understanding”, I decided to have a look at the CPA to see if by some chance it dealt with the issuing of vouchers. A quick look through the Arrangement of Sections led me to Part I which looked promising – Supplier’s Accountability to Consumers. Under this part of the act I found - Section 63: Prepaid certificates, credits and vouchers. The act is written in very plain and simple English and after a quick read through the section the following statements stood out:
(2) A prepaid certificate, card, credit, voucher or similar device contemplated in subsection (1) does not expire until the earlier of—
(a) the date on which its full value has been redeemed in exchange for goods or services or future access to services; or
(b) three years after the date on which it was issued, or at the end of a longer or extended period agreed by the supplier at any time.
Therefore any voucher which is issued with an expiry date less than three years from the date of issue is in contravention of the act. A search of the internet found forums with a number of people claiming success in using the act to get gift vouchers/cards for shops and shopping centres, airtime and restaurant vouchers revalidated. I am not suggesting that it will be a walk in the park to convince suppliers to allow you to make use of an expired voucher but you are certainly entitled by law to try. I do not think too many businesses are going to put up a huge fight given that the business may be fined up to one million rand or ten percent of their annual turnover if they are found guilty. Something as obvious as a voucher expiry date which is less than three years would surely attract a maximum penalty as there is virtually no obscurity in the case.
It still fascinates me how so many business’s return policies, account policies and voucher policies are quite clearly not in line with the CPA. Surely these companies have reviewed their policies sometime in the last three years? I suspect that they prey off of the unaware consumer believing that the vast majority of people will throw the voucher away after their printed expiry date and they will collect income for services or goods which they do not have to supply.