South Africans will soon be among the best-protected consumers in the world.
Patrick Deale, spokesman for the independent complaints managment service Getclosure, has come up with an easy guide to the Consumer Protection Bill.
Deale says the government wants to protect consumers against unfair business practices and to increase fairness and equality for consumers.
The bill will give consumers the information they need to make the best choices, to know what their rights are, to be compensated if things go wrong and to enforce the new rules.
This means suppliers must make goods and services available to everyone at the same price and quality, and also under the same terms and conditions.
Liquor cannot be sold to minors and children must pay reduced rates on tickets.
Here are more examples:
l Consumers' privacy will be protected. The bill has strict rules regarding direct marketing and how it is carried out. Customers will be able to stop any unwanted marketing and the bill might even put the groundwork in place to pre-emptively opt out of any direct marketing;
l Consumers will have the right to choose and not be forced to buy bundled services. They will also have the right to exit fixed-term contracts such as life-term Holiday Club contracts;
l It will make it imperative for service providers to issue the estimated cost for repairs and services before work commences and customers must sign off estimates;
l Customers will get five days to change their minds about a purchase;
l It will state what fair cancellation fees are if a customer cancels an advanced booking;
l Mail order or sample products would have to be of the same quality as the ones that drew a customer's attention. If a tag reads "genuine leather" it better be;
l Sellers would have to fairly disclose information. This includes clear descriptions in plain language of products and services, clear pricing information, commissions charged by agents and even good identification when a seller needs to go to a customer's home;
l Suppliers would be compelled not to use misleading or fraudulent marketing tactics;
l Non-existent special offers used to lure customers will be illegal;
l Customers cannot be encouraged to buy products or services based on potential future rebates or commissions;
l Customers will be entitled to honest and fair dealing. This includes overselling and overbooking of services. The bill will outline what compensation customers could claim if they miss a flight and subsequently miss a hotel or car booking;
l Force and other unfair tactics to get someone to buy something would be illegal;
l Suppliers need to explain what fair value, good quality and safe products are;
l Suppliers need to be accountable to customers. They will have to set out rules on how lay-byes should be offered. Also, pre-paid vouchers and credits need to be valid for five years;
l Finally, consumers have a right to be heard and receive compensation if unfairly treated.
The bill outlines the procedures for doing all this. Complaint and compensation methods need to be accessible and consumers should not be victimised.
So, service providers must review their terms and conditions as well as any disclaimers (fine print) to ensure that they do not contravene provisions of the bill.