Know your consumer rights

That phrase ‘let the buyer beware’ no longer has such sharp teeth since the Consumer Protection Act came into force. This legislation gives you more avenues to take action should you be unhappy with goods and services.

To give it its full title, the South African Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA) was signed into law on 24 April 2009. It follows international best practice by providing recourse for consumers who get the short end of the stick in the marketplace.

Why you need to know your rights

Most of us couldn’t be bothered to complain about bad service or faulty goods, because it’s too much like hard work. In addition, we often accept terms and conditions from service providers that are not entirely legitimate. A simple example is that little rhyme you often see on the shelves of shops: “Pretty to look at, lovely to hold, if you break it, consider it sold.” Totally untrue, you can’t be held liable for accidentally breaking or damaging goods in a shop. Retailers carry insurance for that.

Follow the correct process

The first port of call if you’re unhappy with goods or services is to approach the service provider. If you aren’t satisfied with the outcome through those internal processes, you can then approach the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO).

The Ombud is obligated to enforce the Consumer Goods and Services Industry Code of Conduct, which is published under the Act and dictates norms and standards for service and goods providers. The role of the Ombud is to:

  • Investigate alleged contraventions
  • Attempt to facilitate a settlement between parties
  • Address each complaint in an unbiased manner
  • Make recommendations as to how the dispute should be settled

Lodging a complaint

The process is quite straightforward, and can be done online or by calling the CGSO’s consumer line on 0860 000 272. But there are a range of dos and don’ts.

Dos The complaint must be made as soon as reasonably possible, within three years of the purchase or contract. The Ombud only steps in if you’ve exhausted all of the service provider’s internal mechanisms, such as call centres or escalating the complaint to the company’s head office. If you do decide to go to the CGSO first, you will only be referred back to the service provider.

Don’ts The Ombud won’t follow up on a complaint if it is considered to be unreasonable, frivolous, offensive or just downright petty. The same applies if the Ombud is of the opinion that the complaint lacks substance or has already been substantially dealt with by the CGSO. Nor will it take on a case if it has already been through a court or another independent dispute resolution body. If you’ve got a lawyer on the case, then the Ombud won’t step in, unless it deems it appropriate to include legal counsel in the proceedings.

Returns, refunds and deliveries

You have six months to return faulty or unsafe goods. And it is up to you whether you want the supplier to repair or replace the item, or refund you in full. If the product fails again within three months, the supplier must replace it or refund you, unless you’ve modified it or used it for a purpose for which it was not intended.

In the age of ecommerce, the Act also provides for goods you’ve ordered online. The retailer is obliged to deliver goods that match the sample or description of the product. So when it arrives on your doorstep, and it looks nothing like the picture on the website, you have the right to accept it or reject it. In the latter case, it can be returned at the supplier’s expense. Your parcel must also be delivered at an agreed date, time and place (for physical or online purchases). If not, you’re free to accept or cancel the agreement.


Companies have to provide a quote for your approval before proceeding with any repairs. They also can’t charge you more than the cost quoted. If more work is required, they first have to get the go-ahead from you. Companies also can’t charge you for preparing the quote, unless you agree to this.


Gone are the days when contracts automatically continued if you didn’t notify a company that you wished to cancel the contract near the expiry date. Now your service provider has to contact you – in writing – between 40 and 80 business days before your contract expires. They have to give you the option to continue your contract, change its terms or cancel it. If you don’t reply, the contract will continue on a month-to-month basis until you let them know your decision.

In addition, you can cancel contracts at any time. All you have to do is give the company 20 working days’ notice. However, this doesn’t let you off the hook for anything you owe on the contract up to the date of cancellation, and you might also be charged a cancellation fee.


The Act provides an implied warranty of six months on any purchases, which allows you to claim refunds on inferior goods, even if the warranty given by the company is for a shorter period. However, you can’t demand a refund if you’ve found the same item cheaper elsewhere, or you simply don’t want it anymore. Also, if you have tampered with the goods in any way, then the supplier is not obliged to replace or refund it.

All of us fall foul of sloppy service or poor quality goods at some time or other, knowing your rights and how to go about fixing the situation will save you a major headache.


By Nicci Botha

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