Product warranties, cashier finger-slip and medical scheme waiting periods

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s ‘watch-outs of the week’

09 April 2021 - 14:05
By Wendy Knowler
Your original spend on a product such as a geyser or hair iron entitles you to defect-free use of it for the period of the warranty. If they need to replace it during the warranty period because it became defective, they kept up their end of the bargain by giving that replacement item the balance of the warranty on the original one. Stock photo.
Image: Péter Gudella /123rf Your original spend on a product such as a geyser or hair iron entitles you to defect-free use of it for the period of the warranty. If they need to replace it during the warranty period because it became defective, they kept up their end of the bargain by giving that replacement item the balance of the warranty on the original one. Stock photo.

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

Product may be new, but its warranty isn’t

If you have a warranty claim — on a geyser, an appliance or even a pair of shoes — and the manufacturer replaces the defective item with a new one, you may assume the replacement carries another full warranty, but you’d be wrong.

Jillian, like so many others, was shocked to discover this, and felt there had to be a mistake.

“The hair iron I bought in January 2018 stopped working almost a year later. It had a two-year warranty so the manufacturer replaced it with a new one, but 15 months later, that one stopped working too.

“Now the manufacturer says the warranty has expired, but they are referring to the warranty on the original hair iron I purchased.

“They say the replacement has no warranty, yet it is a brand new hair iron.

“I find this totally deceiving because they replaced my purchase with a new hair iron but choose not to honour the warranty on that one.”

Jillian didn’t get the full story. The second hair iron did come with a warranty, just not the full two-year warranty. It inherited the balance of the original iron’s two-year warranty, which expired in January 2020.

The reasoning, as former Consumer Goods & Services ombud Neville Melville explained to me years ago, is this: your original spend on a product entitles you to defect-free use of it for the period of the warranty.

If they need to replace it during the warranty period because it became defective, they kept up their end of the bargain by giving that replacement item the balance of the warranty on the original one.

I get the reasoning, but I don’t agree with this policy. No manufacturer should feel comfortable, from a customer service point of view, that their new product failed within its full warranty period. When applying the “balance of warranty” principle, customer trust is harmed. But that’s the way it is.

Beware the medical scheme 'waiting period'

Popular Johannesburg GP Dr Sindi van Zyl, well known for sharing medical advice especially on HIV-related and mental health issues on social media and radio, has been in hospital for many weeks after suffering several Covid-19 complications.

During the Easter weekend her husband Marinus made an impassioned plea for contributions to a fundraising campaign to help pay the family’s mounting medical costs. The ventilator alone costs R150,000 a week. The response has been “overwhelming”, he said.

On the question of medical aid, Van Zyl told the “Doc Sindi” was “in between” medical aids when she was admitted to hospital in February.

She has on several occasions warned her Twitter followers about aspects of dealing with medical schemes.

In 2019 she tweeted: “Before you change from one medical aid scheme to another, please ask if the new scheme is going to impose a waiting period.

“I have challenged a specific medical aid scheme that is doing this and I was unsuccessful. The patient is now paying for chronic medication and blood tests out-of-pocket for the next 12 months. The clause was somewhere in the fine print. So please ask.”

Whatever the beloved doctor’s medical aid issue is, that’s good advice. Ask very specific questions about a scheme’s waiting period and what it applies to before you make a switch.

Woolies comes through

Last week I shared the story of Joseph Slater, who handed his City of Cape Town utility bill to a Woolworths cashier for payment, as he usually does, but she mixed up a few numbers, with the result that his R980 payment was allocated to someone else’s account.

That was nine months ago, and when he wrote to me recently, he still hadn’t been refunded.

I approached Woolworths, saying that given it was their employee’s mistake, they should refund Slater and battle it out with the City of Cape Town separately.

The retailer has since got back to me to say: “We sincerely apologise that it has taken this long for this issue to be corrected. The store has informed us that they had initially completed forms and submitted these to the City of Cape Town to have the money transferred into the customer’s account.

“The store was notified that it would take approximately three months for the money to reflect on the utility account.. The matter was escalated with the city again in January.

“Our teams are now in contact with the customer to arrange for a refund.”

Slate was this week refunded in full and given a bottle of wine “for all the inconvenience”.

Bottom line - if you pay your utility bills this way, ask to check the account number the cashier has input before she or he presses confirm. If he or she has finger trouble, it seems you could be in for, at best, a lengthy wait for a refund.

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer