A new era of consumer protection

It’s World Consumer Rights Day, which brings the implementation of the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA) on April 1 into sharp focus. By now, suppliers of goods and services should be up to speed with what it takes to be compliant with the Act. The problem is that the final regulations haven’t been formulated yet.

“I’ve been advising businesses to use the draft regulations for purposes of implementation, but the danger here is that we do not know whether the final regulations will be different and how they will differ,” says Ina Meiring, director at Werksmans Attorneys. “This leaves all suppliers who deal with consumers with uncertainties regarding important provisions in the CPA.”

In effect, the Act takes consumer protection to a whole new level. A company can no longer automatically renew your fixed-term contract; if you receive an estimate for repair work you want done, you can’t be charged more that the estimate without your go-ahead; and companies can no longer charge you, say, R10 to enter an SMS competition — they will have to comply with standard network rates.

Trudie Broekmann of Webber Wentzel attorneys cautions that suppliers will need to take a new look at their marketing — advertising may not mislead consumers, direct marketing is strictly regulated and there are new disclosure requirements.

All this is in the interest of fairness. The terms and conditions at the bottom of your contract, which you may or may not read? Companies will now have to audit and review these and, if appropriate, amend or remove them.

The National Consumer Commission will make sure that people and companies comply with the Act, and the National Consumer Tribunal will act as an adjudicative body.

The National Credit Regulator (NCR) is also actively educating consumers about their rights this month — it has launched a campaign to advise consumers on how to keep their end of the bargain. “While these laws provide protection to consumers, it’s important for consumers to realise that they also have obligations and responsibilities to fulfil as part of the deal,” says Peter Setou, senior manager of education and strategy at the NCR.

For example, when consumers enter into credit agreements, they have to honour their terms. At the end of September last year the Credit Bureau Monitor compiled by the NCR showed that 18,35-million South Africans are credit-active; of these, 46,3% had impaired records (accounts are three or more payments in arrears or there’s a judgement or administration order pending against the consumer). Setou says consumers should contact their credit providers as soon as they realise they’re unable to pay and shouldn’t wait until they receive letters of demand.

At the same time, Setou says consumers have the right to reinstate an agreement by paying all overdue amounts, including default charges and reasonable costs.

Knowing your rights is vital, so use this month to educate yourself about what the Act can do for you — and what you can do to be a responsible consumer.

For more information, call the Department of Trade and Industry on 0861 843 384.

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