New consumer ombud launched this week

2013-03-17 10:00

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The Consumer Goods Council of SA represents 11 000 companies working with consumer goods in the retail, wholesale and manufacturing industries.

Large companies in these sectors were involved in a working group responsible for creating the code of conduct that will inform the role of the new ombud.

These include furniture giants such as Ellerines and the JD Group; large food retailers such as Pick n Pay, Spar, Checkers and Massmart; and manufacturers such as Tiger Brands, Unilever and Nestlé.

In what is starting to become a trend across all industries, the ombud will act as a buffer between the consumer and the National Consumer Commission (NCC) which, by its own admission, has been overwhelmed by the number of complaints it receives.

Patricia Pillay of the SA Retail Council explains: “Consumers would first come to the ombud if they have an issue.

This will allow the NCC to focus on industries that do not have ombuds in place or target major industry issues.”

Pillay says once the ombud is accredited, companies that do not form part of the Consumer Goods Council of SA will still be required to adhere to the industries’ code of conduct and can be brought before the ombud.

Like the NCC, the ombud’s powers will be limited in so far as it may rule that a product be replaced, but it cannot go as far as awarding damages as this can only take place in a civil court.

According to the council, the ombud call centre has been running successfully for the past year and has shown outstanding resolution statistics to date.

The ombud is now being officially launched to introduce and outline its processes to consumers.

The council established the ombud to provide guidelines for the consumer goods and services industry on the minimum standards of conduct expected when engaging with consumers and to assist in resolving disputes.

The ombud will deal with consumer complaints against suppliers within the consumer goods and services industry including the retail, manufacturing and wholesale sectors.

The body is set up in line with the Consumer Protection Act, which came into full effect on April 1 2011 and is fully supported by the council and its members.

The council’s CEO, Gwarega Mangozhe, said: “The purpose of the code is to raise the standard of conduct in the consumer goods and services industry, without endangering the vitality and growth of business. The code further offers guidance to smaller businesses in terms of putting best practices in place that will benefit the consumer.”

According to him, the aim of the ombud is to provide consumers with an effective platform to express their grievances.

“Our aim is to provide consumers with satisfactory results so that they do not need to further approach the NCC,” he said.

Complaints process for the consumer goods and services industry

Lay a complaint via the call centre

1. Keep in mind that a complainant who is dissatisfied with goods or a service they received from a supplier has to first refer the matter to the supplier as soon as practically possible.

Referral to ombud office

2. A complainant who referred a complaint to the supplier concerned, and who remains dissatisfied with the manner in which the supplier is dealing with it, or how it has been dealt with, may refer the complaint to the ombud.

Complaint resolution by the supplier

3. If a complaint is referred to a supplier by the ombud, the supplier shall:

» Contact the complainant to clarify the issue.

» If able to resolve the complaint, provide the ombud with proof the complaint has been settled.

» Undertake any investigation that is necessary.

» If unable to resolve the complaint, provide the ombud with a report outlining the investigation that the supplier undertook and the reasons the matter was not resolved.

» If the ombud is of the view that the supplier has provided the assistance sought by the complainant or provided an acceptable explanation for the conduct, the ombud may inform the complainant of this fact and indicate that the file will be closed, unless the complainant challenges the view or provides new information about the complaint within 10 business days.

» During the set time, the ombud may facilitate a settlement between the supplier and the complainant if the ombud considers it would be appropriate and helpful to do so.

Investigation and resolution

4. The ombud may enter into a full investigation if it decides that it requires this for the purpose of arriving at a resolution on a matter.

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