Advice on contract cancellations, vehicle tracking options and working away from home
Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s ‘Watch-outs of the week’
In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:
Before you sign, check the cancellation terms
It’s been almost 10 years since the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) came into force, but many companies continue to believe they can hold their customers to terms and conditions which do not comply with the act.
Cathy of Germiston contracted a security company for 12 months two years ago, meaning her contract is currently on a month-to-month basis and she can cancel with a month’s written notice, for no penalty, according to the CPA.
However, when she recently gave 30 days’ notice of cancellation, she was told she would be billed for another three months — in other words, the company is imposing a three-month notice period.
When I raised that with the company, the manager said their legal representative said it complied with “the law” and ended the call.
Consumer Goods and Services ombud Magauta Mphahlele said while the private security industry has its own regulatory body, namely the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority, its code of conduct requires companies to comply with their own act and other relevant legislation, including the CPA.
Clearly the CPA introduced the no-penalty 30-day cancellation notice period (once the fixed term contract has passed) to avoid consumer abuse in the form of a 90-day cancellation notice period.
Covid-19 has heightened consumers’ need for flexibility; the ability to cancel without jumping through too many expensive hoops.
The airline industry has realised this and changed their Ts & Cs dramatically when it comes to cancellation.
Now for the rest!
Meanwhile, before you sign up with any company for goods and services, make sure to find out what their cancellation policy is as you may decide not to go ahead.
Tracking companies want their money, even if you hit the skids
It may seem like a good idea to sign a three-year tracking contract for your car to avoid paying for the tracking device itself upfront, but if you sell the car within three years, or you can no longer afford the monthly payment, things can turn bad pretty quickly.
With some exceptions, insurance companies insist the cars they insure have a tracking device fitted and linked to a tracking service.
You can either buy the device outright upfront, and then pay only for the monitoring, or — as most dealerships suggest — enter into a three-year contract with the tracking company, in which case you pay nothing upfront, but pay off that device over those three years, as you would with a cellphone contract.
It seems like the easiest option, but you’re in far stronger position if you pay for the device upfront instead. That way you pay a lower monthly fee, covering monitoring only, because you’re not paying off the device every month.
Plus, you aren’t locked in for three years. You can cancel the contract with just 30 days’ notice.
I received a heartbreaking e-mail from Vinnie this week. She’s unemployed and can no longer afford her tracking fee so she wants to cancel the contract and have the device removed, but the company won’t release her from her three-year contract.
“They have handed me over to an attorney for collection,” she said.
That will pile on the costs.
Please think very carefully about committing to contracts that will continue to remain in force long after you may want or need the company’s goods or services.
Keen to work away from home? Be sure to ask these questions first
Are you sick of working from home and keen to take a working holiday for a change of scenery? It’s a great idea, but best you ask all the right questions first.
Most travel problems start with a failure to read the terms and conditions, says Shaun Lamont, MD of leisure and hotel management company First Group.
“People get so caught up in the excitement of booking their trip that they often forget to read the very thing designed to protect them — the fine print.”
“If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you hope for the best and plan for the worst,” he says.
At the bare minimum, Lamont says, make sure you know the answers to these questions before making a booking:
- Is there good Wi-Fi and is it included in the rate?
- Will there be a holding fee on my credit card, and if so, when it will be released?
- What are the terms of the deposit?
- What is your cancellation and refund policy?