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How to find reputable solar suppliers, car repayment advice & warning of beauty 'side hustles'

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

08 July 2022 - 10:51
Alternative power is unfamiliar territory for most South Africans, which makes us fair game for rogue suppliers. File photo
Alternative power is unfamiliar territory for most South Africans, which makes us fair game for rogue suppliers. File photo
Image: LUKAS BARTH/Reuters

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

So you’re going solar? Don’t let a rogue supplier dim your shine

Relentless load-shedding has compelled South Africans to invest in whatever alternative energy sources their budgets or credit sources will accommodate. And just as I was once warning people about generator scams, lately I’ve been hearing from homeowners who chose the wrong solar supplier.

One man ordered solar panels from Proton Solar Distributors online, and when one of the four panels was delivered smashed, the company refused to take responsibility for it, saying he needed to resolve the problem with the courier — the courier the company had chosen as its third-party delivery partner.

According to the Consumer Protection Act, goods to be delivered remain at the supplier’s risk until the consumer has taken delivery.

In another case which I’m about to investigate, a Cape Town solar installer convinced a homeowner to accept supposedly “brand new” solar panels with “superficial” defects which, he said, wouldn’t affect their functionality.

In reality they were shattered and delivered no energy — according to the system’s display — but the installer refused to take responsibility.

Alternative power is unfamiliar territory for most South Africans, which makes us fair game for rogue suppliers.

This week insurer Dialdirect and Solar Craft, a solar supplier which has been in the industry for 28 years, advised consumers to ask energy suppliers or service providers the following questions before contracting with them:

  • How long have you been in business, how many successful installations have you done and what sales support will you offer in five years?
  • Please give me the names and contact details of some of your previous clients.
  • Do your installations adhere to Sans (SA National Standard) and Nersa requirements; are they done by qualified and registered electricians; and does an electrical engineer check the quality of components and installations?
  • Do you issue a Certificate of Compliance (COC) after the installation?

Want to settle your car loan early? Here’s what you need to know

Did you know that if you choose to settle a “large credit agreement” — that is one of R250,000 or more — you can be made to pay an early settlement fee?

Trevor wrote to me last week to say he’d received a settlement quote from WesBank in the amount of R181,500, along with a “penalty interest charge” of R4,621. He took out the loan, over six years, in November 2018.

Trevor had been led to believe — by incorrect information on the internet — that no penalty was payable if the settlement balance was less than R250,000, hence his objection to that R4,621 being added to his R181,500 balance.

But, says the National Credit Regular, penalties apply if the principal debt — the total financed amount at the start of the agreement — is R250,000 or more.

The good news is that when I took up Trevor’s case with WesBank, the bank opted to waive the early settlement “out of goodwill”, based on his finance history with the bank, and he got his refund last Friday.

“The discount of penalty fees is discretionary and the NCA allows the financer to define the conditions and make a decision, so it’s not standard practice,” the bank told me.

But here’s the thing — that definition of a “large credit agreement”, R250,000 or more — hasn’t changed since the National Credit Act came into effect in 2007. That’s crazy when you consider what’s happened to the price of cars in the past 15 years.

Asked to comment, the NCR said it was “considering reviewing the amount”.

If that happens — and let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later — more people will be able to settle their car or home loans early without being penalised. 

Before you pay a 'trainer' in the beauty industry...

With unemployment at a record high and many people looking to develop a “side hustle” to supplement their income, the demand for training courses is on the rise.

I recently heard from a woman who, along with many others, responded to an advert for training in microblading and permanent makeup, but got neither the training nor a refund. They’ve since found out that the woman is not qualified to offer the training.

So I contacted the SA Association of Health & Skincare Professionals (SAAHSP) to ask what checks someone should do before paying a “trainer” for a course in this industry to establish legitimacy and quality of training.

“If they are members of SAAHSP or PCASA — the Permanent Cosmetic Association of SA — then you know they adhere to a set of rules and conducts,” said SAAHSP’s executive director Joelette Theron.

“In cases where it is a qualification, you can verify by asking them if they are accredited by Services Seta or CHE. This will give you a good indication that they are accredited and registered correctly to offer the training.

“Legitimate providers advertise their accreditation on the sites with pride.”

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

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