The Department of Trade and Industry’s (dti) much-vaunted Consumer Protection Act came into effect last week, giving consumers a whole new level of protection (we’re already the most protected consumers in the world, by the way).
Smart Money tackles some of your questions about the CPA.
- I don’t want to receive SMSs telling me to sign up for stuff. What can I do?
Don’t want to receive those pesky SMS messages that tell you what to buy, try or get a good deal on?
In future, you can simply put your name down on the national exclusion register, which marketers must peruse before sending any direct marketing which you have not consented to receiving. If your name’s on the list, you won’t be contacted.
According to Candice Holland, associate director at Deloitte, this register won’t come into effect until the minister declares it operative, in order to set up the most comprehensive register possible. It will need to incorporate a significant amount of info, so it’s not ready to be rolled out just yet. As such, it’s status quo for now.
- I bought a product in answer to a promotion from a direct marketer, now I don’t want it. Am I stuck with it?
You have a right to a cooling off period after purchase, which means you can cancel within five business days and return the goods. The supplier is obliged to return payment within 15 business days. This applies even if you have received the goods but remember that a cancellation charge can be charged for the period for which you have the goods and the condition you return it in. It’s safer not to unwrap until you are sure you want it.
- I’m not happy with a product I bought from a supplier and he hasn’t let me exchange it. I want to complain. Do I have to go to court?
“Your first port of call should be the dti website, where you can find contact numbers for National Consumer Commission,” says Holland. “They will help you to bring a complaint.”
What about the consumer courts that hear your complaint for free? According to Holland, there are Provincial Consumer Offices in each of the provinces — their contact details are on the dti website and the eventual aim is to have a Provincial Consumer Court in each province.
- I have the right to inspect goods, but this item is shrink-wrapped? What now?
Your right to inspect goods only kicks in if you are basing your decision on seeing a sample or display good and once you have agreed to buy the good. Once you have bought it you can unwrap it and then return it if it doesn’t match the sample or display
good and you have six months to return a defective item.
- I want to cancel a contract. What are the implications?
You can cancel a fixed-term agreement at any time, as long as you give the supplier 20 business days’ notice, in writing. If you still owe the supplier money, you do need to settle up. Automatic renewals of fixed-term contracts have fallen away, which is good news. The onus is on the supplier to write to you between 40 and 80 business days before your contract expires to tell you what options are available to you and what material changes would apply if the agreement is renewed. If you don’t let the supplier know that you wish to cancel, the contract will continue on a month-to-month basis until such time as you give notice or renew for a further fixed term.
- I have a complaint about a short-term insurance product — is this relevant to the CPA?
For now, the Short-term and Long-term Insurance Acts govern insurance, which means insurance will fall outside the ambit of the CPA for the next 18 months. If the government hasn’t amended these Acts to bring them up to speed with the CPA by then, insurance will then have to comply with the CPA.
- Can I still cancel advance bookings or reservations?
Yes, you can. But you might still have to pay a reasonable deposit if you cancel an advance booking at short notice. Note that in the event of hospitalisation, say, the supplier obviously can’t charge you — this would be neither fair nor reasonable.
“If a company isn’t compliant with the regulations to the CPA right now, the Commissioner will probably be reasonable,” says Holland. “It’s reasonable to start enforcing regulations after six months or so, so companies probably have until then to get up to speed.”
The Office of the Consumer Protection is now known as the National Consumer Commission (NCC). Consumers can lodge complaints with the new NCC on this number: 0860 266 786 or you can send a fax to 0861 515 259.
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