Bill promises stricter controls over suppliers of goods and services

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

Consumers will now be better protected by a new consumer law, but the lack of widespread information on the piece of legislation means most South Africans could still be vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses.

President Kgalema Motlanthe signed the new Consumer Protection Bill into law late last week, the Department of Trade and Industry said.

The bill promises stricter controls over suppliers of all consumer goods and services.

Nomfundo Maseti, acting deputy director general of the Department of Trade and Industry, said the act would protect consumers against exploitation and unfair practices and would empower them to make wiser purchasing decisions.

She said: "The current legislation's redress system was very poor. If a consumer had a complaint, he/she had to take it to the criminal court, which is often very costly and time consuming.

"Under the new legislation consumers can take the matter through an independent administrative process which is adjudicated by the National Consumer Tribunal."

The law provides new rights to consumers that include:

l Imposing strict penalties on suppliers who engage in misleading advertising;

l Imposing penalties on suppliers who sell sub-standard merchandise, making them liable for any damages incurred by users;

l Allowing the consumer to demand an immediate refund if he/she has been sold a product of inferior quality;

l Preventing suppliers of goods and services from changing the terms of any particular contract; and allowing consumers to cancel contracts if they are not satisfied with the terms.

l Preventing a supplier from automatically renewing contracts; hence obligating the supplier to notify the consumer that it has ended and to offer a renewal.

Even though the law is effective now, the National Consumer Commission will only be established 12 months from the April 24 signing.

Implementation of the act starts 18 months from the date of signing. The Department of Trade and Industry said this was to give businesses reasonable time to align their trading practices to comply with the law.