Check debits for old cellphones & your rights on defective products explained

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

14 August 2020 - 14:33
A cellphone user was still being debited R305 a month for a phone she last used in 2014.
A cellphone user was still being debited R305 a month for a phone she last used in 2014.
Image: 123RF/ANDRIY

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

Want those comfy shoes to last? Wear them more

Most “comfort shoes” manufacturers — Hush Puppies, Froggie, Tsonga, Green Cross, Clarks, Scholl, Blundstone, Bass and Ecco, for example — use moulded polyurethane (PU) soles. That’s what makes them so comfortable.

But over time, if they aren’t worn continually, even a tiny bit of humidity in the air can begin to break down the long chemical chains that form polyester polyurethane in a process called hydrolysis.

Ironically, the soles don’t disintegrate from over-wear, they do so because of lack of wear.

Who would think to wear sandals throughout winter and boots in summer? The problem is many consumers are not told about this when they buy shoes with PU soles.

Durban-based Froggie shoes does disclose the downside of comfy PU soles by means of a swing tag on those shoes, essentially telling buyers to save the soles by wearing the shoes as often as possible.

Hendrik found out about the phenomenon only last week when he wore a pair of Green Cross slip-ons which he bought a few years ago after a back op, but seldom wears. “The soles just disintegrated,” he told me. “When I did a Google search, I found an old article of yours on the issue, explaining what happened.” (Google “shoes fall apart” and hundreds of thousands of PU sole stories pop up.)

Hydrolysis is most prevalent in humid, coastal areas, and keeping the shoes in a box, in a dark cupboard, accelerates the process.

But, alas, it seldom happens within the six-month Consumer Protection Act warranty period, so there is no legal recourse. So now would be a good time to dance about your lounge in those PU-soled sandals you haven’t worn since pre-lockdown.

So did you cancel the insurance on your old phone?

Could you be paying insurance for a cellphone you stopped using years ago? Very possibly.

You may have stopped using a handset five years ago, but the policy on it will still be in force, and the premiums being collected from you via debit order every month, unless you specifically cancelled it.

If you don’t make that call — or send that e-mail — to cancel the insurance on your old phone when you replace it with your new one it will just continue, year after year, with no notification.

I’ve heard from people who discovered that they were still paying insurance of phones they stopped using four or even six years previously.

Here’s the thing, in the case of cellphone insurance sold by the networks on behalf of third-party insurers, the premium deductions are not always described on bank statements as “cellphone insurance”.

In one case I investigated, the word “Monitor” appeared on the women’s bank statement next to the premium deduction on her bank statement.

I think it’s fair to say that thousands of handsets listed on those policies are no longer in use by those paying for the premiums, meaning there’s no hope of there ever being a say.

Here’s why: for a say on cellphone insurance — taken out via the networks — to be successful, the contract SIM must have been used in the insured phone at the time of incident.

So if you gave your old iPhone to your child, it won’t be covered by the insurance cover you took out when you got the phone on contract.

When I asked one such insurer how many handsets of older than four years were on their books — bearing in mind that most contract subscribers “upgrade” their contracts every two to three years — I was told they could not divulge that information.

And the premiums are not small amounts — in the case I received this week, the woman was being debited R305 a month for a phone she last used in 2014.

So check your bank statements for a mystery debit — it could well turn out to be useless spend on a very old cellphone.

When you upgrade your phone, make sure that you upgrade your cellphone insurance at the same time.

It pays to know your return rights

If you aren’t clued up about your right of return in terms of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), sooner or later a retailer is going to take advantage of that.

These are some of the invalid reasons companies give for denying consumers their right to a full refund for a defective product, within six months of purchase:

“No, we don’t do refunds, we only replace or repair.”

The CPA gives consumers the right to their choice of a refund, replacement or repair, if a product malfunctions in some way within six months of purchase. Retailers and their suppliers do not have the right to impose policies which don’t comply with the laws of the land.

“Electrical goods are exempt from the CPA” — not true.

“OK, we’ll give you a refund but you have to pay a handling fee of 25%.”

This is illegal; if the product is defective within six months, a full refund is due. (You can be charged a handling fee if you return a product which is NOT defective. And when it comes to online purchases, you can return something even if it’s not defective within seven days of delivery, but you can be made to pay for the courier.)

“We can’t take that back without the original packaging.”

There’s no legal justification for this if the product malfunctions in the first six months. (But keep the box anyway, because from month seven the manufacturer’s warranty kicks in and they do then have the right to insist on the box if you submit a warranty say.)

“Sorry, you changed the plug.”

This is not a valid reason to refuse to take responsibility for a defective electrical product, not unless the replacement plug caused the problem.

Most ridiculous of all: “You’ve used it so we can’t take it back.”

This makes a mockery of the CPA’s six-month warranty, if the product malfunctions during that period.

NB. Only if you buy a product online can you return it (within seven days) if it is a “change-of-heart”, rather than defective. When it comes to goods bought in-store, you have no legal right of return at all. Exchanges and credit notes are done as a voluntary customer service.

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