South Africans, now more than ever, want bang for their hard-earned bucks. With a fragile economy, consumers are likely more discerning about what they spend their money on, and when they do, they expect quality goods and services. Of course, this isn’t just a reasonable expectation; it’s a consumer right protected by the law. So when consumers’ rights are violated, and they are faced with defective products, sub-par service or breached contracts, they are entitled to seek redress. As with most disputes, there is a process to follow, so LAW FOR ALL has decided to delve into how to lodge a consumer complaint in South Africa and highlight some tips to increase your chances of swift resolution.
What does the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) say about consumer rights?
As the name of the CPA suggests, this piece of legislation lays out the consumer rights South Africans are entitled to. So, for instance, when it comes to purchasing goods and services, consumers have the right to safe and good quality goods; to be fully informed about everything there is to know about a product or service; not be mislead by false information or inaccurate marketing, and reasonable terms and conditions. Consumers are also entitled to seek redress in the form of a refund, repair or replacement if the product or service is inferior or defective.
What are some of the most common consumer rights violations?
- Unsafe goods or of sub-standard quality. Essentially, if the goods can harm a consumer or don’t reflect the standards claimed by the supplier, a consumer can seek redress.
- Failed deliveries or late deliveries.
- Exchanges that are denied on defective goods.
- Where a supplier is unwilling to repair, replace or refund a consumer.
- Unreasonable terms of cancellation of reservations, bookings, orders or contracts.
- Any labels or packaging that may be misleading.
- False advertising or “bait marketing”.
- Any service or behaviour from a supplier that is discriminatory.
- Terms and conditions of a contract that are unreasonable and unjust.
- Supplier not honouring the extended warranty agreement.
- Incorrect or misleading display of the price of the goods or services.
How to lodge a consumer complaint in South Africa.
Consumers often think that approaching well-known regulatory bodies, like the National Consumer Commission (NCC), from the get-go, is the best and quickest way to resolve a consumer complaint. However, while the NCC is undoubtedly a powerful option, there is a process that must be followed, and there are other options that must be exhausted before approaching any tribunal or ombudsman. Thus, a successful consumer complaint is dependent on following the required process.
The first port of call is for the consumer to try and resolve the dispute directly with the supplier (always keep receipts and, inspect goods before purchase and report defects within six months). If that is unsuccessful, the matter should be referred to a Dispute Resolution Agent, who will go through an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process. These options are usually Ombudsman Schemes or Provincial Consumer Protection Authorities. Again, if the consumer does not get the desired outcome, there is still the option of approaching the NCC.
What exactly is the National Consumer Commission, and how can it help?
The National Consumer Commission (NCC) facilitates the redress of consumer complaints where consumer rights were violated by suppliers. The NCC deals with consumer complaints about goods and services and not any related credit agreements.
The Commission will investigate complaints and, based on all the information and evidence, refer cases to be adjudicated by the National Consumer Tribunal (NCT). The NCC promotes finding an amicable resolution of complaints and doesn’t directly intervene to adjudicate disputes. The Consumer Tribunal has the authority to declare the CPA contravened, order changes in practice, impose administrative fines and interdict future prohibited practices. In cases that involve discriminatory practices, the NCC has the authority to refer matters to the Equality Court, too.
How to lodge a complaint with the National Consumer Commission
Consumers can file a complaint with the NCC by filling out a complaint form on their website (www.thencc.gov.za) or by calling (012) 428 7000. E-mails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or traditional mail to National Consumer Commission P.O. Box 36628 Menlo Park 0102
Your NCC Consumer Complaint Checklist:
- Always keep your receipts and correspondence with the supplier(s).
- Be sure to inspect goods for defects before purchasing.
- Always report faulty goods or defective products within six months of buying.
- Approach the supplier first to resolve a complaint.
- Your next stop is the Provincial Consumer Protection Authority or the relevant Ombudsman scheme.
- Lastly, approach the NCC with the reference number received from the authorities mentioned in number 5.
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If you have questions about resolving a consumer complaint, feel free to get in touch with LAW FOR ALL’s legal professionals who can give you sound legal advice and guidance. If a service provider is giving you the runaround, our lawyers can intervene. If you don’t have legal insurance cover, sign up online.