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Many South Africans face consumer-related problems every day. These problems range from bad service, poor quality products and misrepresentation, which results in service providers not delivering what they promised to deliver. As a result, consumers lose millions of Rands every year. What many consumers are not aware of is that they have the right to redress too many of these problems because they have certain consumer rights.
These rights are based on consumer protection guidelines developed by the United Nations in1985 and are soon to be enshrined in law when the Consumer Protection Act is promulgated. Issues such as disclosure, product liability and certain marketing practices will then be regulated.
Certain consumer organisations, which include the South African National Consumer Union (SANCU), the National Consumer Forum (NCF) as well as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), refer to the eight basic consumer rights in South Africa.
The right to be heard – A financial services provider (FSP), retailer, supplier or anyone else providing goods or services must listen to consumers when they complain.
The right to safety - Consumers must be protected against flaws or hidden dangers in products or services that they buy. They also have the right to physical safety while they are buying.
The right to redress - When you are sold an inferior product or service, you have the right to go back to the seller or service provider and demand a replacement or a refund. In some instances this right is protected by law and consumers can take their cases to the courts to exercise their right to redress.
The right to a healthy environment - Consumers have the right to a physical environment that will enhance the quality of life.
The right to be informed - Consumers have the right to be given all the information they require about a product or service. For example they have the right to request a list of ingredients that go into making a particular product that is being sold, detailed information of a contract that they might sign, etc.
The right to choose - Consumers must insist on a variety of products and goods to choose from based on personal taste, quality or price. Competition in the market allows you to buy what suits your particular circumstances.
The right to consumer education - Consumers have the right to demand education in consumer matters. Both the State and private sector have a role to play in this.
The right to satisfaction of basic needs - Consumers have the right to basic goods and services which guarantee survival. This includes adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and sanitation.
There are various for a that can be used by consumers to report consumer rights violations. In many instances, there is an Ombudsman who will investigate the matter.There are also government bodies at local, provincial and national levels that also investigate cases of consumer rights failures. Of particular note is the fact that government as set up Provincial Consumer Affairs Offices in all nine provinces to provide consumers with protection, information and advice. These offices have resulted from Schedule 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act, which creates concurrent legislative Competency between provinces and the national government through the (DTI) to protect consumers. Provincial Consumer Affairs Offices are established in terms of the Consumer affairs (Unfair Business Practices) Act. This Act makes provision for all provincial Consumer Affairs Offices to establish Provincial Consumer Courts to adjudicate and resolve all consumer complaints of unfair business practice free of charge. The Consumer Protector who resides within the Office of Consumer Affairs investigates cases of alleged unfair business practices and prosecutes unscrupulous service providers on behalf of consumers. Decisions taken by members of the Consumer Courts are of a binding nature.
You as a consumer can approach any of these offices to intervene in disputes you may have regarding contracts, quality of products or services, etc.
Investigate and resolve consumer complaints of alleged unfair business practices;
Create awareness of consumer rights and responsibilities;
Educate consumers on how they should assert their rights and protect their interests when buying products and services;
Refer unresolved matters to the Consumer Affairs Court for adjudication.
We must remember that with rights come responsibilities. It is our responsibility as consumers to make sure we understand contracts before we sign them, that we have checked whether service providers are licensed, where applicable, that we read the small print in guarantees and that we are certain that this is the service or product we want. Having done this and if we are still faced with a consumer related problem, we should first complain to a manager or customer care office of the business concerned before approaching a Consumer Affairs Office to intervene. The value of approaching these offices lies in the fact that they have trained staff to advise you on your rights as consumers. It is also advisable to contact them to find out if a company you intend doing business with has a history of complaints against it.
Second-hand motor vehicles;
Telkom and Eskom;
Consumer advice: National Consumer Forum. www.ncf.org.za
What are my consumer rights? Howard Badler: The Skills Portal. www.skillsportal.co.za
South African Consumer Service Bodies: South Africa Info. www.southafrica.info/services/consumer
Eastern Cape – 040 609 3050
Free State – 051 400 4852
Gauteng – 011 355 8006 or 0860 4288634 (contact centre - option 4) or firstname.lastname@example.org
KwaZulu-Natal – 031 310 5300 (Durban) or 033 264 2600 (Pietermartizburg)
Limpopo – 015 293 8300/8367
Mpumalanga – 013 752 3761
North West – 018 387 7700 (switchboard) or 018 387 7946/7866
Northern Cape – 053 839 4000 (switchboard) or 053 830 4870/4854