Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

International Consumer Rights Day: These are your rights and this is how they are protected

Consumers can use their rights protected by the CPA to prevent problems when they pay money for goods or services.

Everyone who ever had a problem with a product or service they spent money on knows that we have consumer rights, such as getting our money back for a faulty product. However, it is a good thing to know what exactly your consumer rights are and how to protect them.

Many countries will celebrate International Consumer Rights Day on Friday, 15 March to remember the day in 1962 when former US president John F. Kennedy spoke about four basic consumer rights in a speech. These rights were the right to safety, the right to choose, the right to get information and the right to be heard when you complain.

The organisation Consumers International added four more basic consumer rights, namely the right to consumer education, the right to fair compensation, the right to a healthy environment and the right to have your basic needs satisfied.

Over the years the consumer protection movement grew and various countries enacted legislation to protect consumer rights. In South Africa, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) protects your rights as a consumer.

ALSO READ: Consumer Protection Act and your rights

Aims of the Consumer Protection Act

The CPA aims to support and protect the economic interests of consumers, give them better access to better quality information to help them make better and informed choices, protect them from goods and services that could harm them and make it possible for consumers to receive compensation if they have a valid complaint.

In addition, the CPA aims to ensure that consumers are educated on consumer issues and the results of their choices, enable consumers to form groups that will support and back their interests and support consumers to participate in decisions in the marketplace that will affect them.

The CPA applies to every transaction in South Africa that is not specifically excluded, the advertising, marketing and selling of any goods or services by suppliers who are not excluded, transactions happening in South Africa and transactions where the supplier does not make a profit. Excluded transactions are usually those regulated by a specific act, such as the Long-Term Insurance Act, that applies to insurance.

Other transactions between a supplier of goods or services and a consumer that are also covered by the Act include a club, trade union, association, society or other organisation, corporate or incorporated, with voluntary paid or free membership and an invitation to join a franchise and the transactions that follow, even if the franchise is a business with assets or turnover of more than R2 million per year.

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When the CPA does not apply

The CPA does not apply to goods and services exchanged in a private sale between two or more consumers, goods and services supplied to government or supplied to a company with an annual turnover or asset value of R2 million or more at the time of the transaction.

Transactions that are part of a credit agreement under the National Credit Act (such as an instalment sale agreement, credit facility, credit card or loan) and services supplied under an employment contract are also excluded from the provisions of the CPA.

How the CPA defines a supplier and a consumer

According to the CPA, the consumer is someone who goods and services are marketed to, someone who has made a deal with a supplier, someone who uses a product or service in certain circumstances, even the person did not make the deal and someone who is thinking about or who has entered into a franchise agreement.

A small business, trust, partnership, body corporate or company with an annual turnover or asset value of R2 million or less is also regarded as a consumer.

A supplier, on the other hand, is a person or company who markets and provides goods or performs services in the ordinary course of business for consumers. A service provider is someone who promotes, supplies or offers to supply any service. However, if you sell a product or service as an individual to another consumer, you are not a supplier.

The CPA defines a transaction as an agreement between a consumer and one or more other people or companies to buy goods and services or the process of supplying the goods or services to the consumer for payment.

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CPA protects these consumer rights

When it comes to consumer rights, the CPA protects these fundamental consumer rights:

  • equality in the consumer market;
  • privacy;
  • choice;
  • disclosure and information;
  • fair and responsible marketing;
  • fair and honest trading;
  • fair, just and reasonable terms and conditions;
  • fair value, good quality and safety;
  • to be heard and receive a refund.

Equality in the consumer market

Section 8 to 10 of the CPA stipulates that no one is allowed to discriminate against you when marketing goods and services, but it sets reasonable grounds to treat you differently in certain circumstances, such as not selling cigarettes to minors.

Your right to privacy

Sections 11 and 12 deal with your right to restrict unwanted direct marketing and regulate times when companies may contact you.

Your right to choose

As part of your right to choose, sections 13 to 21 provide for your right to choose a supplier, when fixed term agreements expire or can be renewed, prior authorisation of repair or maintenance services and a cooling-off period after direct marketing.

Your rights to cancel advance bookings and select or check goods, as well as your rights regarding the supply of goods or services, your right to return goods and unsolicited goods or services are also covered by these sections.

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Your right to disclosure and information

Sections 22 to 28 provide for your rights to get information in plain and understandable language and know the price of goods or services.

Labels and trade descriptions must be affixed to products and suppliers must also disclose when goods have been rebuilt or bought on the grey market and they must keep track of sales. They must also deliver according to their sales staff’s claims and actions and shippers and installers must be able to prove who they are.

Your right to fair and responsible marketing

Your right to fair and responsible marketing is entrenched in sections 29 to 39. These sections provide that bait marketing and negative option marketing are not allowed, while various provisions apply to catalogue marketing, loyalty programmes, trade coupons, competitions, alternative work schemes and referral sales.

Suppliers are also banned from concluding agreements with people who are not commercially competent. Your rights regarding direct marketing are also covered.

Your right to fair and honest trading

Sections 41 to 47 cover your rights to be treated fairly and honestly. Unscrupulous behaviour, false, misleading or deceptive representations, fraudulent schemes and offers and pyramid and similar schemes are not allowed.

This part of the CPA also gives you the right to assume that the supplier may sell the goods on offer. These sections also govern how auctions must be held, how goods can be exchanged, held, waived and replaced and how overselling and over-booking should be handled.

ALSO READ: Here’s how the CPA protects you when repair work goes wrong

Your right to fair, just and reasonable terms and conditions

Sections 48 to 52 protect you from unfair, unreasonable or unjust contract negotiations. It stipulates that you must be informed of certain terms and conditions, that certain transactions, agreements, bargaining or conditions are unlawful and that the courts can ensure fair and just conduct, terms and conditions.

Your right to fair value, good quality and safety

In this part of the act, sections 53 to 61 provide for your right to fair value, good quality and safety when buying products or services. You have the right to demand quality service and receive safe goods of good quality.

All goods and services have a guarantee of quality and a guarantee applies to all repaired goods as well. You must also be warned of possible risks. Hazardous materials must be stored correctly and products that have a defect must be recalled, while the merchant and everyone in the manufacturing and sales chain is liable for damages caused by goods.

Sections 62 to 67 determine the supplier’s accountability. It covers lay-bys, prepaid certificates, credits and vouchers and prepaid services. Suppliers must also keep your property safe and account for it. Deposits for containers and the return of parts and materials are also covered by this part of the CPA.

Your right to be heard and refunded

This part of the act deals with the protection of consumer rights, how the rights can be enforced, how complaints are resolved and when you can complain to the National Consumer Commission.

Read more on these topics

Consumer protection Act Consumer Rights

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