Need to know: Doing gas right, finding bargains & cancelling gym contracts

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s “Watch-outs of the week”

04 July 2020 - 10:28 By wendy knowler
Retailers are having to work hard to entice shoppers into their stores.
Retailers are having to work hard to entice shoppers into their stores.

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

Looking for a bargain? It’s more likely to be in store than online

Assumptions can cost you — the assumption that buying in bulk works out cheaper, for example. In the case of breakfast cereals, packs of mielie meal and margarine tubs, it’s very often the smaller pack, not the bumper one, that works out cheaper, per gram, so it pays to check out the price of the various pack sizes and do the maths before you buy.

It’s also a mistake to assume that a company’s shop prices match their online prices.

They could be running a sale in store but not online, as was the case with New Balance this week. Curwin Samuels wanted to buy a pair of shoes which was selling for R2,999 online, but 30% less on a sale in a New Balance store. When he queried this with the company, he was told: “Sometimes there are variations between online and store sales. You can either make the purchase in store or online. We apologise for the inconvenience.”

E-commerce is soaring beyond anyone’s predictions — according to SA’s largest payment provider, DPO SA, the last weekend in May saw transactions per minute hit an incredible four times that of the busiest minute during Black Friday last year. So, with retailers having to work hard to entice people into their stores and buy in the traditional way, there are clearly bargains to be had if you don your mask and hit the mall.

Doing gas right

A week ago Zanele asked me on Twitter: “I was advised not to put any gas cylinder over 9kg indoors. Apparently insurance won’t pay should anything happen with a gas capacity over 9kg. Is that true?”

That prompted someone to share a photo of a 48kg gas cylinder standing in his brother’s lounge, towering over the gas heater it was connected to.

So what do the regulations say? According to Nirvan Brijlal, acting MD of the LP Gas Association of SA, the biggest cylinder you can have inside a flat is 9kg, and inside a domestic house, it’s 19kg. So no 48kg monsters indoors. And yes, if you operate anything contrary to instructions, your insurer won’t be inclined to pay out if something goes wrong.

The Association has issued its dealers with strict Covid-19-related health and hygiene instructions in terms of exchanging empty gas cylinders for full ones — staff are to wear appropriate personal protection equipment and cylinders must be washed and disinfected, especially the handles. So do not accept a grubby looking cylinder — apart from the health issue, that could well be a sign that other policies and procedures aren’t being adhered to either.

It’s also a good idea to ask that your cylinder be weighed in front of you to ensure that it hasn’t been underfilled (a rip-off) or over-filled (very dangerous).

Most important of all when exchanging gas cylinders, Brijlal says, is to check the plastic shrink wrap on the tap mechanism.

“If it just says LPGas or is see-through, that is a strong indicator that that cylinder may have been illegally filled by an unauthorised person,” he says. “The seal on the valve should match the brand on the cylinder body.”

The price of gas is regulated in SA along with the fuel price. I’ve had several complaints about overcharging, so it pays to know what the price is. Here’s where you can find out.

  • Before you buy a gas patio heater, check that your patio can accommodate not just the height of the heater itself, but the clearance required in order to operate it safely. I’m currently dealing with a case where a Durban homeowner bought a 2.2m tall patio heater from an online store, its marketing material having made no mention of the clearance area. Only when she received it did she see the full operating instructions, saying there had to be 100cm of space above the heater, space that patio does not have.

Don’t forget about the month’s notice period

Many people are wanting to cancel their gym contracts as the lockdown drags on, gyms remain closed and money is tight. It doesn’t help that many gyms are not making themselves available to communicate with their members in any way during lockdown, while continuing to debit their bank accounts for full fees.

Here’s what members wanting to be free of their contracts need to know:

  • The Consumer Protection Act allows you to cancel a fixed-term contract such as a gym contract or cellphone contract, before the term is up, by giving 20 business days’ written notice, but the company is entitled to charge a “reasonable” cancellation penalty.
  • Fitness clubs’ penalties range from 30% to 80% of fees payable for the remainder of members’ contracts, so check your contract. To my mind, those who want to cancel early now should be able to do so for little or no penalty, if they’ve been paying full fees for the past three months, for no service, as many are. But legally, in the absence of any communication, you are still liable for that cancellation penalty.
  • If your term is up, you can cancel without penalty, but not without that 20 business days’ written notice. The contract does not end until you give that written notice. So if the contract “ends” at the end of July, for example, unless you e-mailed your notice of cancellation before the end of June, the gym will debit your bank account in July as well as August, the latter being the 20 business days’ written notice. A lot of people get caught by that notice period. You could later argue that you hadn’t been getting any service for your money during lockdown, and that any form of compensation is meaningless if you’re cancelling. But forewarned is forearmed.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.