One of the aims of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) is to
promote responsible consumer behaviour. Based on the experience
gained from our pro bono* consumer law clinics, Louise Bick has
identifi ed ten responsibilities which consumers should be aware of
in order to fully enjoy their consumer rights and understand what
responsible consumer behaviour entails.
You have the right to receive information in a way that is
understandable. But, you still need to read agreements, including
the terms and conditions, before signing. If you are unsure about
anything, you need to ask questions so nothing is unclear. It will
be too late to say "I didn't understand what I
signed" after the agreement has been signed.
Like a cavity in your tooth, letters from creditors are not
going to go away. The longer you ignore them, the worse the
situation will become. It is your responsibility to react to these
letters because (in some instances), if you do not, you effectively
give up certain of your consumer rights.
For example, by law, credit providers have to give you the
option of seeking help from a debt counsellor before they can take
action against you. If you ignore one of their notices (for ten
business days or more) the credit provider can take you to
If you receive any kind of legal document, such as a summons or
notice of motion, react as quickly as possible because you are
given a limited number of days to respond. The amount of time you
have will be in the document. You should take this seriously
because if you do not, a court judgement could be taken against you
without you being there.
Write down as much as you can – from simple details
such as the name of the person that you spoke to at a consumer
complaints desk, to more important details such as discussions and
resulting arrangements. If you ever have a legal problem at a later
stage, it will be far easier to prove the facts if you have them in
writing. The CPA recognises how important it is to have documentary
proof and states that a supplier must provide you with a complete
sales record of the transaction.
Correct errors timeously. If you see something strange, for
example an amount on your statement or a deduction on your payslip,
deal with it as it happens. It will be far more diffi cult to
reverse charges or deductions after a few months.
Check quotations and prices before accepting them. According to
the CPA, you are entitled to a written quotation for any repair or
maintenance services over R1 in value. It is your responsibility to
review this quotation and authorise the work to be done. The CPA
also requires prices to be displayed and may not force a consumer
to pay a price higher than the displayed price.
Consumers often get caught up in the excitement of a sale,
particularly when the goods or services are marketed directly by
telephone, email or in person. The CPA allows you to reconsider a
purchase made as a result of direct marketing. But it is your
responsibility to reconsider and inform the supplier of your
decision in writing, within fi ve business days from the date on
which the transaction was concluded or the goods were delivered to
Consumers have the right to complain to the relevant Ombudsman
of certain service industries (e.g. Banking, Credit, Motor, Press,
Short and Long Term Insurance), who will try to mediate between you
and the supplier to solve the issue. It is your responsibility to
choose respectable suppliers that are governed by these bodies if
you wish to rely on this option.
It is your responsibility to try to resolve your consumer rights
issue with the supplier directly. Certain resources will only be
accessible once you have done so. As an example, the Credit
Ombudsman will only investigate your dispute after you have taken
it to the credit provider or credit bureau concerned, and given
them twenty business days to attempt to resolve the dispute.
Think about the consequences of overspending –
personal, fi nancial and environmental – and resist the
temptation. Be aware of the impact of your consumer behaviour on
your own pocket and the community around you.
Tell others what you learn about consumer rights and
responsibilities. The National Consumer Forum highlights the
following consumer responsibility: "organize together as
consumers to develop the strength and infl uence and to promote and
protect our interests". The CPA allows for recognised consumer
protection groups to act and protect the interests of consumers
individually or collectively.
Know your rights, know your responsibilities and empower others
to do the same.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Recent media hype regarding the imminent implementation of the Consumer Protection Act, 68 of 2008 ("the CPA") has highlighted its impact on the manufacturing, supply and distribution of goods and services.