The ombud got R12.9 million back for consumers who were treated unfairly, handling more than 10 000 complaints in the process.
What are your rights when a new bed is too hard, a dealer refuses to return a part-payment or you cannot prove which batteries you bought for your inverter in order to have them exchanged? The Consumer Goods and Services Ombud dealt with all of these complaints and we can learn from how they were resolved to prevent the same happening to us.
The ombud’s office detailed these three complaints in its annual report for the 2023 financial year.
When your new bed is too hard and you can feel the springs
A consumer bought a new bed, but five months later, contacted the supplier to complain that she could feel the springs on the bed, which was also too hard for her liking. She asked the supplier to replace the bed or pay her money back, but the supplier refused.
The consumer then proposed that the supplier take a 20% handling fee and refund her 80%. The supplier sent someone to inspect the bed and then offered a 50% refund, but the consumer was not happy and sent her complaint to the ombud. She wanted a full refund.
The supplier told the ombud that the offer of a 50% refund is based on the time that elapsed since the consumer bought the bed and the subsequent wear and tear.
The ombud says in this case sections 55 and 56 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) applies. According to section 55, every consumer has a right to receive goods that are reasonably suitable for the purposes they are generally intended for that are of good quality, in good working order and free of any defects.
Goods must also be useable and durable for a reasonable period of time and comply with any applicable standards or any other public regulation.
According to section 56(1), suppliers guarantee that goods comply with the requirements and standards contemplated in section 55 and that a breach of the implied provision entitles the consumer to return the goods, within six months from delivery and demand that the goods be repaired, replaced or refunded.
The ombud points out that any item can be returned within six months for a refund, repair or replacement if there is a manufacturer’s defect in terms of the CPA. In addition, the choice between a refund, repair or replacement rests with the consumer and not with the supplier.
“From the circumstances of the case, we were of the view that the supplier contravened sections 55 and 56 of the CPA. We therefore made a recommendation against the supplier in those terms and recommended that the supplier refund the complainant as she wanted a refund.”
The supplier complied with the ombud’s recommendation and paid the full amount back to the consumer.
Getting back money from lay-by when consumer dies
Another consumer complained to the ombud because she could not get the gun dealer, where her husband bought a gun on lay-by to return the money he already paid. Her husband bought a gun on lay-by and paid R8 200 towards the firearm, but he passed away before he could settle the total amount.
She contacted the gun dealer to request a refund of the amount paid, but her request was denied and she turned to the ombud for help.
The supplier told the ombud he tried to contact the husband numerous times to complete his payment for the firearm as all items bought at the store must be paid for within 60 days. This was clearly stated on the receipt and the dealer said the husband was in breach of contract as he failed to complete payment within the stipulated period.
The dealer also said that the standard cancellation percentage at gun stores is 45% and therefore, he was prepared to only pay back R4 565.
In this case, section 62 of the CPA applies. It states that if a supplier agrees to sell something to a consumer and accept payment for it in periodic instalments, while keeping the item until the consumer has paid the full price for the goods, each amount paid remains the property of the consumer and is subject to section 65, until the goods have been delivered to the consumer.
In addition, if the consumer terminates the agreement before paying in full or fails to complete the payment within 60 business days after the anticipated date of completion, the supplier can charge a termination penalty and must pay the balance to the consumer.
However, a shop is not allowed to charge a cancellation penalty if the consumer’s failure to complete payment was due to his death or hospitalisation. The ombud says as the consumer could not complete the payment for the firearm because he had passed away and therefore the shop is not allowed to charge the penalty fee.
The ombud told the dealer that he was not allowed to charge the penalty and also informed him that the maximum cancellation penalty for lay-bys must be reasonable and may not exceed 1% of the full purchase price. The handling fee of 45% was therefore a contravention of this regulation as well.
“Unfortunately, the supplier did not cooperate with our office. We received communication that the company in question no longer existed and that there was a new entity with new ownership who advised that they would not entertain the complaint as the transaction was with the previous entity,” the ombud said.
However, when the consumer visited the supplier’s premises, she found the previous owner there, who then chased her out of the shop. The ombud requested the consumer to contact the National Consumer Commission to get the business practice of the company investigated.
Ensure your invoice is correct
Trying to mitigate the effects of rolling blackouts by using inverters and batteries have already led to a number of complaints. A consumer asked the ombud for help after a dealer would not exchange batteries for his inverter because the batteries recorded on the invoice were not the same as the batteries he wanted to exchange.
The consumer bought an inverter power system along with batteries for R12 860 in July 2021. Upon installation, he realised that the batteries lacked the necessary output to power his household and on 22 November 2021 exchanged the batteries at a purchase price of R3 700 and paid the installer an additional R450 to install them.
Between November 2021 and March 2022, there was no excessive load shedding and he did not use the inverter system until April 2022 when stage 2 load shedding returned. At this point he realised that the batteries did not work as expected and approached the supplier in April 2022 to replace the defective batteries with new batteries or refund him the amount of R3 700.
The supplier refused to refund the consumer because the consumer could not show an invoice matching the description of the batteries. The consumer claimed that he bought a specific kind of batteries and that the supplier made a mistake by issuing an invoice for the same brand as the defective batteries he returned.
The consumer did not check his new invoice when he returned the batteries and assumed it would reflect the name of the new batteries. He wanted the dealer to refund him the full amount of R8 700 for both sets of batteries as well as the amount of R450 for the installation.
However, the supplier told the ombud that the batteries were brand new and had a warranty. The supplier said he did not refuse to exchange the batteries but asked the expert installer to return the exact batteries as described on the invoice.
According to the supplier, the installer returned a different product from a different brand and a refund could only be done if the consumer could show an invoice listing the batteries in question. The consumer denied that he returned a different brand of batteries and argued that he had no reason to return a product that was different to what was supplied.
“As our role is to mediate and not investigate, our assessment can only be based on the evidence furnished by the consumer and the supplier. Based on the evidence submitted in this case, there is a dispute of fact about the kind of batteries.
“On a balance of probabilities, we could therefore not conclude what was supplied because the consumer did not have an invoice to prove which batteries he received. We could not reach a decision on the evidence or on a balance of probabilities and the complaint was dismissed in accordance with our terms of reference,” the ombud said.