Not so fast, I know my rights

19 June 2017 - 07:37 By Wendy Knowler
Do you know your consumer rights?
Do you know your consumer rights?
Image: iStock

I love hearing that readers have got justice for themselves by cutting out or printing one of my columns on the Consumer Protection Act and presenting it to a company employee who is denying them their rights.

Occasionally that's met with a "well, our policy is." but mostly it works, as was the case with Dave Hopcroft of Northcliff, Joburg.

He bought an iron at Makro's Strubens Valley branch in March, and two weeks ago it stopped working, well within its CPA six-month warranty period, entitling him to return it for his choice of a refund, replacement or repair.

So back to the store Hopcroft went, "armed with your most recent article on returning defective goods".

"At the customer service desk I explained the issue and said I would like to have the iron replaced," he said.

"After testing the appliance, which proved to be non-operational, the response was: 'Unfortunately as it is outside the 14-day return period, we will have to send it in for repair.'''

That prompted Hopcroft to explain his CPA rights, as outlined in the In Your Corner column he was clutching.

"In response, she made a phone call to her supervisor, saying: 'I have a customer here with a broken iron which was purchased two months ago.'

"A brief silence was followed by 'Okay, thank you' and then she proceeded to fill out a credit voucher.

"When I challenged her on why I was able to replace the iron only after I made a 'CPA issue', her response was that at the customer service desk, they are not authorised to approve replacements outside the standard Makro 14-day return period.

"It seems Makro's policy is to see what they can get away with and let the customer choose their CPA six-month recourse for defective products only if they know their rights," Hopcroft said.

Asked to respond, a Makro spokesman conceded that "in hindsight, we could have handled the matter differently".

"We always endeavour to deliver best customer service and abide by the CPA and as such will be doing a refresher CPA course with our returns and reception staff at Makro Strubens Valley.

"Our marketing manager at Strubens Valley has also contacted the customer to apologise."

I later learnt that Hopcroft, on redeeming his voucher for an iron identical to the one which broke, was made to pay an extra R100 as the price has gone up since he bought the original one at the end of March.

Given that the original iron became defective within six months, the replacement iron should have been provided to him at no extra cost. Something to add to the re-training session.

Feeling spare

Last year I asked motor industry ombudsman Johan van Vreden to list the five things he wished consumers would do before they bought a used car.

Among them was this:

"Check that the vehicle's service history is up to date and that the service book is in the vehicle. And make sure that there is a spare key."

That should tell you how often dealerships don't provide these two vital things with the used cars they sell. What they do come up with are promises that the service book and/or spare key will be provided later, but that seldom happens.

I always advise people to walk away if either of those things aren't available when they want you to sign on the dotted line, because so many of the car-related stories that land in my inbox start with problems related to a missing service history or spare key.

It's never a good sign.

So, I wasn't surprised to see a missing spare key saga among the case studies in the Motor Industry Ombudsman of SA's 2016 report, released last week.

A consumer bought a used vehicle from a franchised dealer, with the dealer promising to give him the spare key "at a later stage".

A week later he discovered some faults and reported these to the dealer, attempting to make a date to take the car in and to collect the spare key.

"But the dealers told him they will tell him when to bring the car in for repairs and collect the key."

Then the dealer closed down.

In such cases the Consumer Protection Act and the ombud's code of conduct entitle the office to refer a complaint to anyone in the supply chain, so they approached the car's importer, which refunded the cost of the repairs and supplied a spare key free of charge.

Contact Wendy: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler

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