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Trade processes boosted by CPA

Neville Melville says it's all about balance and ensuring everyone gets the best possible outcome.

CGSO ombudsman advocate Neville Melville. Picture: CGSO.

JOHANNESBURG - A survey of the complaints brought to the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman(CGSO) shows suppliers are more accepting of their responsibilities under the Consumer Protection Act(CPA) while consumers are more aware of their rights.

CGSO ombudsman advocate Neville Melville said, "It's all about balance and fairness and making sure everyone gets the best possible outcome."

He said while consumers have complained about everything from pornographic downloads found on a computer after repair to broken television screens, the CPA is still a relatively new piece of legislation and there is a lack of decision by the courts and tribunals on exactly how it should be applied.

The CPA also introduces concepts from international laws that are new to South Africa.

DAMAGE TO GOODS

In a number of cases, the ombudsman has to decide whether the defect was in fact existing or whether the consumer played a role in damaging the goods.

"We cannot instruct the supplier to repair the goods free of charge if they have been altered or if the damage was due to customer neglect."

"If the customer has altered the product in any way, warranties will be voided. Changing the plug on a DVD player is an example."

If there is a dispute of fact between the customer and the supplier's version of events, the CGSO may have to call in an expert to give their opinion.

"We need to look at all the evidence in support of each version and weigh this up against each other to establish which is correct or more probable"

In a number of cases, reports showed the defects or damage were due to customer negligence, in which case, the customer had to pay to have the damages repaired.

MISLEADING OFFERS OR ADVERTISEMENTS

One complainant saw an advert for a couch selling for R1,599 but, when he went in to the store, he was told that the actual price was R3,700. The store said the lower advertised price was a printing error and subsequently refused to sell the furniture at that price.

"We apply the 'reasonable consumer' test in a case like this and found that the supplier was not bound to provide the couch at the incorrectly advertised price because of the large discrepancy with the actual price."

"However, in the interests of good customer relations, it was recommended that the supplier provide the complainant with a token of apology for the customer's wasted time and transport costs - such as a R100 cash voucher."

TILL SLIPS NECESSARY FOR EXCHANGES OR REFUNDS

In another case, a consumer requested a refund, despite not having a till slip.

"While the CPA makes no specific reference to till slips, the high levels of crime in South Africa justifies the requirement of a till slip when exchanging an item, for proof of purchase," said Melville.

He said each case should be treated on its own.

"It's not desirable to lay down an inflexible industry standard as this is an issue of competitive service. Some require a slip, others don't."

"Unlike the court process, there are no formal pleadings, hearings or arguments by legal counsel and the ombudsman is guided not only by the law, but also by fairness."