The National Consumer Commission is tasked with enforcing and implementing of the Consumer Protection Act. The Commission has now officially opened, issued draft guidelines for the lodging of complaints and is readying itself to start receiving complaints from consumers from 1 April 2011 when the act comes into force.
The Consumer Protection Act puts the power into the hands of consumers. Consumers are given a myriad of rights and the act aims to prevent suppliers from taking advantage of vulnerable consumers.
Before you rush off to the Consumer Commission on 1 April 2011 however, there are a few things you should know. The rights you have as a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act only become available from 1 April.
This means that any contracts you signed or transactions you entered into or products you bought before 1 April are not subject to the act. For example, after 1 April fixed term contracts for less than three years, like a gym contract or cell phone contract, may be cancelled before the end of the period you signed up for subject to a penalty but you cannot be forced to pay an unreasonable penalty. Contracts you entered into before 1 April cannot be cancelled on 20 days’ notice. The existing rules that apply to that agreement will carry on for the duration of that contract.
This is also true of your right to return goods. Consumers will have extensive rights to return goods if they are coerced into an agreement through direct marketing, if the wrong goods are delivered, or the goods do not match the description of sample or if the goods are defective. These rights will also only apply to goods purchased after 1 April.
You will also be entitled to a warranty that goods you buy are safe and free from defects for a period of six months after you receive the goods. This does not mean that your goods purchased over the festive season which do not comply with these requirements can now be returned to the supplier after 1 April. Nor can you complain to the Consumer Commission about past transactions.
Consumers also need to be aware that the Consumer Commission will not tolerate or expend tax payers’ money on frivolous or malicious complaints. The act is designed to prevent suppliers from taking advantage of consumers and infringing their rights. If consumers take improper advantage of these processes, those who really need protection will suffer.
Not all complaints you have as a consumer in terms of the Consumer Protection Act can be dealt with by the Consumer Commission. There are still some issues such as the interpretation of contracts and claims in relation to harm caused by defective or unsafe products that will need to be addressed through the court system. The Consumer Commission will certainly direct you to the right place for your complaint but you are not always going to get the speedy resolution that the alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in the Consumer Protection Act allow for.
The Consumer Protection Act also is not a quick way to make money. There are very limited instances in which consumers can be compensated for any loss with an award of money. Most of the solutions provided for in the act are about ensuring that you receive what you are entitled to, that you are not misled and that you are not forced to pay for products or services which do not exist, are poorly delivered, or are defective.
The Consumer Protection Act is far-reaching. Compliance with its provisions by suppliers and understanding your rights as a consumer are going to take some time and will not happen immediately from 1 April. It is important for everyone, no matter what side of the supply chain you are on, to ensure that you educate yourself and become familiar with your rights and obligations.
Notes for editors:
On 1 June 2011 Deneys Reitz will, together with Ogilvy Renault LLP, be joining Norton Rose Group. Norton Rose Group is a leading international legal practice, offering a full business law service from offices across Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. Norton Rose Group is strong in financial institutions; energy; infrastructure and commodities; transport; and technology. The addition of Deneys Reitz and Ogilvy Renault LLP to Norton Rose Group will give the Group increased resources across its principal practice areas, including corporate finance, banking, litigation and international arbitration, intellectual property and employment, and new sector strengths will result from Ogilvy Renault’s strength in pharmaceuticals and life sciences.
Established in the early 1920s, Deneys Reitz is one of the largest commercial law firms in South Africa, providing specialist services in the full spectrum of legal disciplines. The firm is a national organisation, with over 200 lawyers at its offices in Sandton, Durban and Cape Town. The firm's Africa-specialised division, Africa Legal, provides an international pan-African legal service, and in early 2010 the firm established an associated office, CRB Africa Legal, in Tanzania.
Ogilvy Renault LLP is a full-service law firm with close to 450 lawyers and patent and trade-mark agents practicing in the areas of business, litigation, intellectual property, and employment and labour.
Post 1 June 2011, Norton Rose Group will have over 2500 lawyers practicing in 37 offices worldwide.
Written by Rosalind Lake, Associate at Deneys Reitz