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 << Backgetclosure! FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) 



    FAQs on Consumer Rights

Questions
 · What are my basic rights as a consumer?
 · Are there any laws that cover consumer complaints?
 · Can a consumer take a supplier to court?
 · Would I need a lawyer if I take a supplier to court?
 · What would it cost if I went to court?

Answers
What are my basic rights as a consumer?
Eight basic rights are recognized internationally:
  • The right to be heard: Consumers have a right to be heard on issues, policies, laws and other relevant matters that concern them. These include the right to complain about sub standard products and services.
  • The right to be informed: Consumers have the right to be fully informed about a product or service. This includes the ingredients of processed foods and the detailed terms and conditions of a contract relating to the purchase and consumption of the product or service.
  • The right to safety: Consumers have the right to protection against unsafe goods and services and to physical safety while they’re on the supplier’s premises.
  • The right to choose: Consumers have the right to choose from a variety of products, goods and services based on their personal taste, quality and price.
  • The right to redress: Consumers have the right to redress from their grievances about substandard, unsafe, unduly expensive goods and services, unfair claims and other unfair trade practices.
  • The right to consumer education: Consumers have the right to be educated about basic consumer rights and responsibilities to enable them to make an informed and confident choice of goods and services.
  • The right to a healthy environment: Consumers have the right to live and work in a physical environment that is safe and does not threaten health and life, that does not pose a danger to present or future generations and that will enhance their quality of life.
  • The right to the satisfaction of basic needs: Consumers have the right to basic goods and services that guarantee survival. This includes adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and sanitation.

Source: "Buy Right, Consumer Guide for South Africa" (2nd Edition), SA National Consumer Union, published by Protea Book House, protea@intekom.co.za
The Consumer Protection Act, which comes in to effect in October 2010, seeks to codify the following fundamental consumer rights:
  • The right to be heard and obtain redress.
  • The right to equal access to the consumer market.
  • The right to privacy.
  • The right to choose.
  • The right to disclosure and information.
  • The right to fair and responsible marketing.
  • The right to fair and honest dealing.
  • The right to fair, just and reasonable terms and conditions.
  • The right to fair value, good quality and safety.
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Are there any laws that cover consumer complaints?
Yes, consumers in South Africa currently enjoy protection under a number of statutes including the Merchandise Marks Act 1941, the Business Names Act 1960, the Price Control Act 1964, the Sales and Service Matters Act 1964, the Trade Practices Act 1976, the Consumer Affairs (Unfair Business Practices) Act 1988 and the Businesses Act, 1991 (Act No. 71 of 1991). Consumers also enjoy a measure of protection under the common law of contract, which deals with the rights and obligations of parties purchase goods and services. The seller must deliver products or services to the purchase in accordance with the agreed terms of the contract. This means that the seller must deliver the goods and services in the agreed time period and must comply with the agreed quantity and quality standards. If some of the terms of the contract are undefined or vague, the seller must deliver what was reasonably expected by the parties. Once the Consumer Protection Act comes in to effect, the common law of purchase and sale will be modified and the various statutes listed above will be repealed and replaced.
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Can a consumer take a supplier to court?
Yes, consumers can take suppliers to court and there are a number of courts to choose from. The courts available to consumers are as follows:
  • Consumer Affairs Courts: Have been set up in some provinces, such as Gauteng, in terms of the Unfair Business Practices Act 7 of 1996. The Court has considerable powers to hold suppliers accountable to consumers who complain of defective goods and poor service. For example, the Court can
    • empower investigating officers to search business premises and seize documents;
    • summon people to appear before the Court to produce documents;
    • issue temporary and permanent orders to stop an unfair business practice;
    • hear, consider and make a decision on any matter before the Court;
    • award costs against any person found to have conducted an unfair business practice;
    • appoint a curator to take over the running of a business and sell its assets to compensate consumers who’ve lost money; The Court can issue a fine of up to R200 000 or a prison sentence to suppliers or people who ignore the Court’s orders.
  • The Small Claims Court: The purpose of the small claims court is to make the law more accessible to the general public. It’s not as formal as the other courts. Only an individual can make a claim - not a close corporation or a company.
  • Magistrates Court: The Magistrate’s court deals with claims valued up to R100 000. The maximum could be higher if the parties have agreed in their contracts to refer any disputes to the Magistrate’s court or if the claim concerns a credit agreement in which bonds, bills, cheques or admissions of debt are involved.
  • High Court: The High Court deals with civil claims valued in excess of R100 000. There is no maximum limit.
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Would I need a lawyer if I take a supplier to court?
Sometimes you would and sometimes you wouldn’t.
  • Consumer Court is more informal and hence it is easy for consumers to present their own cases without having to use expensive lawyers.
  • You’d normally need to use an attorney to take action on your behalf in the Magistrate’s court.
  • If you take action in the High Court, you’d definitely need to use an attorney and, in most cases, an advocate as well. This is because the proceedings are much more formal and can be complicated.
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What would it cost if I went to court?
This varies depending on the court you choose and whether you need to hire an attorney or advocate.
  • The only costs involved in referring a claim to the Consumer Court are the costs of sending a registered letter of demand, a summons and attachment fees if the court orders that the supplier’s assets must be sold to raise cash to pay your claim.
  • The legal costs involved in referring a claim in the Magistrates court depends on the hourly or daily rates that your lawyer charges you. On average, the fees could be in the region of R5000 per day or R1000 per hour.
  • The legal fees for the High court would be much higher. This is because you’ll need to pay an attorney as well as an advocate to prepare and present your case. On average, their combined fees could be in the region of R 20 000 per day or R2 500 per hour.
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