Know your consumer rights

2013-10-06 14:00

You’ve heard of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), but how does it help you when you need it? And how do you ensure that your rights are protected? Consumer goods and services ombud Advocate Neville Melville points out five common areas of consumer complaints and what you can do

Problem: Poor quality of goods purchased

You buy goods only to find that they are of poor quality or downright defective.

Solution: Under the CPA, you are entitled to ask for the goods to be repaired, replaced or refunded if they are defective.

The choice is yours – the retailer cannot force you to have the goods repaired if you want a refund or replacement.

You can also insist on a cash refund instead of store credit, but you must return the goods within six months of purchase for a refund to be made.

Problem:The retailer won’t let you return what you purchased

Loved that handbag yesterday, but changed your mind today? That may not be enough to lodge a complaint against a retailer.

“It’s a misnomer to think that a company must take back goods you purchased if there’s nothing wrong with them,” says Melville.

The CPA only requires a supplier to accept a return if there was something wrong with the goods.

Solution: You cannot return goods simply because you had a change of heart. However, a “cooling off period” of five days applies to direct marketing sales or to credit transactions, such as purchasing a car, where there is a written agreement in place.

Purchasing goods using your credit card counts as a cash sale.

Problem: Caught in a marketer’s trap

Companies use marketing tactics such as sales and promotions to get customers through the door. But if you arrive only to be told they’ve run out of the advertised stock, you may have grounds for a complaint.

Under the CPA, retailers must ensure that they have sufficient stock to meet a reasonably anticipated demand for any products that are promoted

or advertised.

Solution: If a company advertises goods at a specific price and runs out of stock, they can be held liable for “baiting” consumers.

If you can show this, you have grounds to complain or you can demand goods of a comparable quality and value.

Problem: Contaminated foodstuff

If you have suffered from food poisoning after eating contaminated food, you may be entitled to claim compensation under the CPA.

Solution: You may be able to claim expenses such as those related to hospitalisation, other medical costs, and loss of income while you are ill.

But a doctor’s note saying you’ve had an upset stomach is unlikely to get you far.

You will need hard evidence, including lab-tested specimens. If possible, freeze any leftover food so that it can be tested for bacteria.

Problem: Late delivery of your purchases

You paid upfront for that lounge suite, but it still hasn’t been delivered months later. You are entitled to receive your goods within a reasonable time frame.

If you’re buying groceries online, this may mean delivery within a day, while purchasing furniture may require a longer time of up to six weeks.

Solution: Try to resolve the complaint at store level by speaking to the manager. If that fails, you can lodge a complaint via a consumer website such as or you can lodge a complaint directly with the consumer ombud.


»?When buying online, be sure to read the small print. However, bear in mind that whatever the supplier’s return policy, if the goods are defective, you are entitled to have them replaced, returned or refunded. And the supplier must cover the expense.

»?Make sure you keep your paperwork in order, including your receipts to make the process easier.

»?If there is nothing wrong with the goods, the retailer can also insist on a till slip as proof of purchase or for the original packaging in order to accept a return. Most reputable retailers have a returns policy, which may specify a time limit for returns, usually up to about a month.

»?If your bank account is being debited for goods you have not yet received, don’t simply stop paying as this could have a negative impact on your credit rating. Rather lodge a complaint first.

»?If you need help resolving a consumer complaint, visit, call 0860?000?272, or email

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