No conning the people

South African consumers have been guaranteed further protection from unscrupulous service providers.

South African consumers have been guaranteed further protection from unscrupulous service providers.

The National Credit Act, which was passed in 2005, has made certain countries green with envy. Some of them are studying the act with a view to importing it to deal with over-burdened consumers in their own countries.

The Consumer Protection Bill, once enacted, will see the scrapping of unfair business practice by those holiday clubs that dupe consumers into lifetime contracts that they can never use.

Consumers like Willy Nell will benefit from the bill.

Nell said he made the biggest financial mistake of his life by attending a holiday club presentation. He said a smooth-talking salesman seduced him into becoming a member.

Nell said he was promised a free holiday if he entered into a contract, but he paid a fortune for something that he has never been able to use.

"I realised that I will never be able to travel to those distant resorts to stay for free on club points, and which also eat into my account," Nell said.

He paid the club whatever was due to it.

"I thought my worries were over when Holiday Club personnel assured me that I owe them nothing and my September statement reflected a nil balance, and 24 points to use, if I wanted to," said Nell.

But last Friday, Nell had the shock of his life when an SMS informed him that he owes the club R1952,74.

"I phoned them and was told that I owe them R145 for RCI affiliation fees plus the R1952,74. Needless to say, I was dumbstruck."

Bongi, the call centre agent, could not give Nell an explanation, but promised to send the complaint to her superiors.

Nell said: "Thuli, I am so sick and tired of this parasite so-called holiday scheme. It is causing me to long for a mental institution instead of their resorts. I want out," Nell said.

Time Institute of South Africa have agreed to look into Nell's complaint.

How the bill will protect you.

l Everyone likes surprises - but only good ones. A bad surprise is getting to the till and finding out a product you thought was R29,99 actually costs R59,99.

Unclear pricing will be a thing of the past under the bill. The same goes for food labelling. Nasties such as MSG (Monosodium Glumate), fat content, genetically modified ingredients and potential allergens will have to be clearly and accurately labelled.

l The airline industry is known for overbooking seats. Under the new bill, you can't sell what you don't have. The bill is flexible and recognises that in some cases there are reasons for overselling, but it will regulate the practice. So, if you miss a connecting flight or a hotel booking due to overselling of seats, there will be guidelines on compensation.

l Have you ever tried to complain about poor service and then been doubly insulted? The new bill will stop victimisation, intimidation and penalisation of customers who try to enforce their rights. In addition, there will be formal channels to lodge complaints, including ombudsmen and a new consumer commission.

l You should, but do you read the fine print in contracts? And if you do, do you understand it? Now, you will get a free copy of the contract, which will have to be fair, reasonable and just. The supplier will not be able to make any changes to a contract without your permission.

In addition, a contract will have to be written in easy and understandable language.

l Have you ever bought something on the spur of the moment, and regretted it the next day?

Thanks to a direct marketing campaign when the bill becomes law, consumers will have an enforceable five-day cooling off period in which to return an item.