Consumer protection taken to the next level

South African consumers are now benefiting from increased levels of protection, mainly due to regulatory measures introduced across different industries, the Consumer Protection Forum (CPF) said on Monday.

“Good progress to protect the consumer has been made on all fronts,” forum spokesperson Peter Setou said in a statement.

“Whether it is a dispute over contracts or complaints about the quality of products and services, consumers are getting better access to protection, information and advice than ever before.”

During the quarter ending December 2010, more than 2 332 consumer complaints were finalised, resulting in more than R18-million being put back into consumers’ pockets, he said.

According to Mpumalanga consumer protector Nivard Lubisi, an analysis of consumer complaints trends showed furniture and household complaints were in the majority, followed by cellphones, credit-related matters and other financial services.

“Complaints regarding the telecommunications industry also seem to be on the rise.”

Lubisi said more complaints were being registered as more channels for redress were opened to consumers.

Implementation of the National Credit Act and the introduction of the Consumer Protection Act [effective April 1] were also instrumental in achieving higher levels of consumer protection.

Protection measures
Important work done by the provincial authorities and consumer affairs offices, as well as sector regulators had also helped ensure that consumers really benefited from these protection measures, he said.

Internationally, March 15 was celebrated as World Consumer Rights Day and in South Africa, the forum has made March Consumer Rights Month.

To mark the occasion, the forum had put together a number of programmes aimed at educating consumers.

“We aim to improve awareness among consumers about their rights and how they can go about protecting them,” Setou said.

“Campaigns focus on providing practical tips to consumers on how to manage their personal finances, understand the terms and conditions of contracts they enter into, improve their financial literacy and take action if they feel that their rights have been infringed.

“In the year ahead the forum will focus on fostering co-operation and collaboration among role players to maximise our impact in informing and protecting consumers.

“We would like to see the business community too taking proactive steps to help achieve this goal,” Setou said.

The CPF is an umbrella body for consumer organisations countrywide.

It comprises nine provincial consumer affairs offices, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), the National Credit Regulator (NCR), the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS), the Financial Services Board (FSB), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) and the newly-established National Consumer Commission (NCC).—Sapa

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