You have powerful rights as a consumer – here are some you need to know about.
The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) is there to make sure that South African consumers are treated fairly and responsibly, and to protect us against unscrupulous marketers and suppliers. Knowing your rights, and some of the details of the Act, is essential. Here are five ways it can help you that you probably don't even know about!
You have the right to the protection of your privacy and of your personal information. You have the right to refuse unwanted or unsolicited direct marketing, including texts, telephone calls, letters or spam e-mail. You also have the right to discontinue receipt of direct marketing at any time. Once you’ve opted out, the supplier may not continue to send unsolicited direct marketing materials.
You can put your name on a blocking registry to stop telemarketers who are members of the Direct Marketing Association from contacting you. To do this, go to www.nationaloptout.co.za.
You are entitled to a five-day “cooling off” period on a purchase that you’ve made in response to direct marketing (ie, it was advertised to you directly, in person, in the mail, or electronically). That means you have five business days in which to change your mind. If you’ve already paid for something, you must notify the company in writing within that five days, and they’ll have 15 days to return your money in full. If you’ve already taken receipt of the goods, you’ll have to return them before you can get your money back.
You have increased rights regarding contracts. Importantly, the CPA gives you protection from automatic contract renewals. It used to be that consumers who bought gym or cellphone contracts for what they thought were fixed terms, found these contracts were automatically renewed. In terms of the CPA, a company wishing to renew your contract must contact you in writing 40 to 80 business days before your contract expires. They are required to give you three options: to continue your contract, to change its terms, or to cancel it. If you fail to respond, your contract will continue on a month-to-month basis until you make your choice.
A consumer may cancel a fixed term contract before the agreed expiry date by giving the supplier 20 business days written notice. No reason for the cancellation is required. The company may be able to charge you a reasonable cancellation fee, however.
With more and more people ordering goods online, the CPA gives consumers more power. You have the right to check that goods being delivered fit the description of what was advertised. At the time of delivery, you have the right to examine your purchases before accepting them and to reject them if they are not right, and receive a refund. Goods have to be delivered at the agreed date, time and place. If the supplier fails in this regard, you have the right to either accept or cancel the agreement.
You have the right to receive an estimate of repairs from a company free of charge (unless you agree otherwise). Repairs must cost that amount and no more – again, unless you agree. If more work is required than quoted, the repairer must get the go-ahead from you before continuing.
If you believe that your consumer rights have been enfringed, contact the Department of Trade and Industry’s National Consumer Commission, previously the Office of Consumer Protection, at 0861 843 384, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: The DTI, National Consumer Commission, Consumer Complaints, Private Bag X84, Pretoria 0001