Saturday, 24 July 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I claim?

My mother who was a furniture store account holder passed away in June and I was temporarily given the responsibility to administer her estate. I lodged her death with one of the shops in Gaborone a few days after her funeral and I was told that the account had arrears. I was made to fill the club funeral benefit claim form which was then sent to them. All the necessary documents were attached to this form for their perusal.

I decided to call them to hear their response a few days later and they asked me to resend the documents as they say they never received, I emailed the documents.

After that I was notified that I have to pay for the account arrears for me to claim the funeral cover fee. Upon that I requested the account statement which showed that indeed the account was in arrears, also on the statement there seems to be charges and payments that I wish to be clarified about by the shop and they have not been able to do so. In fact they gave me 2 options of either paying the money or they repossess the furniture. I told them I can't afford to pay them and suggested that they should rather subtract the money from the funeral cover and give me the remaining fees, that they refused.

So my question to your office is, is it right for them to demand me to pay?

Yet again here's another story that shows how unpleasant hire purchase can be. Even after the customer's death it sticks around to punish the surviving family. Unfortunately, the store is probably correct. If your late mother was in arrears with her repayments then the benefits offered by the hire purchase agreement were on hold. That includes any funeral benefit that the policy included.

The decision you face is a difficult one. The best thing to do would be to find a way to raise the money to pay off the arrears so you can get the funeral benefits. However, please don't get into debt to do this.

The alternative is just to allow them to repossess the goods but understand that this might not close the deal. Your mother owed them money and they're entitled to recover that. They can't claim it from you but they can claim it from your mother's estate, whatever money or property she behind her.

Let's hope you can find a way to raise the money needed to pay the arrears.

Where's my refund?

Kindly assist. I made an order with an import company. In January they told me that it will take 3 to 6 weeks for my order to arrive which didn't happen. In the beginning of June I wrote to them asking for refund and they told me it will take two weeks. They told me they had a problem with the bank because the refund is coming from China hence the delay. Then they promised that I will get my refund before 9 July.

Since then I have been calling them and its a story after another. I don't know what to do anymore.

We all understand that the last 18 months have been very difficult for us all and for companies shipping things around the world in particular. Moving goods from place to place is a lot harder than it used to be.

But this is different. They told you six months ago that the goods would take 3 - 6 weeks to arrive and I'm sure you would have been tolerant if the delay was a week or two but several months is unacceptable.

I contacted the company and they responded very quickly. Do you think it was because I mentioned I'd be covering this in The Voice? They said they acknowledge that you are their client and they "have been having a few challenges on customs clearance with our shipments from China and have been unable to deliver to our clients. We are now in the process of refunding all concerned clients herein and just waiting for the funds to clear out with the bank. May we ask that this be resolved amicably and refund the client before the 30th of July".

You've waited for six months so far, let's wait for another week and see what happens. If that doesn't work, then we can get a bit more demanding.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where's my bed?

Hi Richard. I really need your help, please our value for our money is no longer considered in furniture stores. I lay-byed a bed worth P4,000 last year August. I went to collect it but after making the payment I spent a week before getting my bed being told that its at the warehouse. I ended up getting it a week later.

After 3 months the bed started making noise. I didn't even waste time I went back to the shop to lodge a complaint and I was told it might be factory fault. They then promised to change the bed but it has been 6 months. Now every month I pay them a visit they keep telling me the same thing.

This bed is no longer comfortable for me, I don't rest well because of the noise. They are taking me for granted because they no longer take my calls at the shop where I bought the bed. Its been 8 months now since I reported this matter maybe a letter from consumer affairs will show them how serious this thing is.

Please help. 

One of the best things about the new Consumer Protection Act is how easy it is to understand. So easy that even some store managers can understand it.

Section 15 (1) of the Act says that a consumer "has the right to receive goods which are of good quality, in good working order and free of defects, unless the opposite is clearly disclosed". Is that difficult?

If a bed is going to be noisy then the store need to tell you that in advance. There needs to be a sign in the store saying 'This bed will make unpleasant noises after three months". Otherwise you're entitled to assume that the bed will be silent, comfortable and likely to give you a good night's sleep. That is what the law offers you. That is what you are entitled to expect.

The store clearly failed to do this and I think we need to explain this to the store. Then we'll see if they're prepared to honour their obligations.

Update: Eventually, after repeated emails the store contacted the consumer and invited them to visit the store and select a bed to replace the noisy one. That's a lesson for us all. Don't give up and eventually the right thing might happen. Eventually.

Can I get a refund?

I laybyed a phone worth P1,300 and along the way I couldn't finish the laybye because my boyfriend bought me a phone. When I went to the shop to inform them that I can't go on with the laybye because of that and I'm looking forward for a refund. They told me that they can't refund me they'll rather make me take clothes from their shop with the money that I laybyed with. Is it fair Richard? Is it how things work?

There's a problem here. With lay-byes. Any attorneys reading this can tell if I'm wrong but I don't think there are any rules or regulations regarding lay-byes. I suspect it's unregulated.

So it might all depend on what was in writing. But there's another problem. Did you actually have a written agreement with the store? My experience is that lay-byes often don't have written agreements, just some receipts for the payments people have made. There's often nothing in writing that say what happens if you change your mind or can't afford to continue with the payments. There's nothing to protect the consumer if things go wrong.

I suggest it might be best to see if there's anything in the store that you might want for the amount you've paid so far. It might be the simplest solution to the situation.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where's my money?

I sold this man my car and he still owes me a balance of P13,000. What he does is take your car and sell it at a certain price and he gives you the money you wanted. He was supposed to pay me P15,000 but he has only given me P2,000. We had a verbal agreement. I went to the magistrate and he ordered him to pay me before 31st May. i served him with court orders and still the sheriff can't get hold of him.

So is there something you can advise me to do?

I think the first problem you face is the lack of written agreement. The rule really should be that any time you buy or sell something valuable, there must be an agreement in writing. It's particularly important when you're hiring someone to perform a service for you, like buying a car. Without an agreement it can be very difficult to prove what was agreed between the two of you.

Luckily, you seem to have found a magistrate who can overlook this and has given you an order to get your money. The challenge now is to make that order more than just a piece of paper.

I contacted the man and he wasn't very helpful. He asked me "Wat was the agreement between me and that guy" and told me to "Get the facts before u start publishing things u don't know Mr". Unfortunately, he hasn't said anything further and has chosen not to tell me what he thinks "the facts" might be.

I suggest you go back to the magistrate and get their advice. It might be time to make this a criminal matter and involve the Police. They might be able to persuade him to cooperate.

Can they do this?

I need your advise with a query that I lodged with a microlender. The query was on direct debits that they sent to my account on dates that we had not agreed on thus creating unpaid transactions in my account.

I work in a financial institution so account misconduct is a serious offense which is why I then sourced some funds to close the account. After closure I then lodged a query on around 6 transactions that they sent to my account on different dates and they only refunded one transaction, but on a complaint letter I sent I also requested an apology letter to assist with my employer case.

The explanation I got for the one refund was that the other direct debits were sent on those dates because my account was in arrears, but my question was if they had the right to do so and if creating unpaid transactions and charges of P325 each on my account was punishment for arrears. I requested for the part that stipulates that in our signed contract and the apology letter but I am getting no responses.

Kindly advise.

I'm sorry to hear about your problem. I haven't seen the contract you signed with the microlender but I suspect it says that if a customer is in arrears then they can take any catch-up payments whenever they feel like it.

Unfortunately, companies like this make money not only from the extraordinary interest rates and other charges they charge but also from the penalties they charge when anything goes wrong. The lender you chose is a particularly expensive one. For instance, if you borrow P10,000 from them over a year you'll repay a total of P19,116. If you borrow just P2,000 over a year the total repayment will be an extraordinary P5,028. And that's before anything goes wrong.

I'm also concerned about your position with your employer. Many banks and companies in the financial services industries insist that their employees don't get into high levels of debt. They do this to minimise the chances that their employees can be bribed or influenced to break the rules. The decision you need to consider is whether honesty is the best policy.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

They took my money!

I request your help, I had acquired a loan with my bank. I was dismissed from work. I contacted the bank and informed them that I was no longer working. I further on made a paying arrangement since I'm home and not working. The account I was using ended up being dormant and it was closed. I happen to have a savings account with them. Now 2 days ago my sister transferred her business money in order to pay for her items online. The bank has now accessed the account and paid the loan. I ask for your help for the bank to pay back the money since I had an agreement with them.

Kindly advise.

I think you have a problem. Perhaps several problems.

Firstly, you did the right thing by talking to your bank when you lost your job. Lots of people just go quiet when they can't pay their bills but you did what everyone should do. They should talk and do their best to agree a repayment plan they can afford.

Things went wrong when you allowed someone else, not the account holder, not you, to use the account. The bank was entitled to believe that all the money in your account belongs to you. They were also probably entitled to transfer money between your accounts if there was a debt in one and a credit in another. If you check the agreement you signed when you applied for the loan you'll certainly find a clause which says they can do this if necessary. It also probably says that they can do this without asking you first and certainly if you are in arrears with your repayments.

I think it's still worth speaking to the bank to see if they'll reconsider the situation and refund you but I'm not optimistic.

And then there's your sister…

Where's my refund?

Sometime last year there was a professional modelling workshop advertised to teach young interested models. The price was P950 per child and was scheduled to be on 5-6 December but due to Covid protocols it was postponed to the beginning of 2021.

The workshop management are very unprofessional, communication is made when it is them, when I inquire about progress am told to await an official statement.

Now I have informed them that any date after 31 March will not be suitable. I have on numerous occasions informed them of that and requested that I be refunded the money and they refuse to refund stating that they will only refund when they cancel the workshop, it is over 5 months now with no progress and concrete explanation on way forward or the refund I have requested.

I therefore request your intervention in this matter because my kids can no longer attend the workshop, and I do not believe that any plans have been made.

I'm sorry to hear about this.

I think you should email the organisers and tell them that Section 14 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Act says that when a supplier:
"undertakes to perform any services for or on behalf of a consumer, the consumer has a right to … timely performance and completion of those services (and) timely notice of any unavoidable delay".
Section 14 (2) goes on to say that when a supplier:
"fails to perform a service to the standards" they must "remedy any defect in the quality of the services (or) refund the consumer a reasonable portion of the price paid for the services performed and goods supplied, having regard to the extent of the failure".
I would then tell them that if they don't refund you within maybe 7 days you'll seek a court order against them for the refund. If they don't refund you you should go to the Small Claims Court for that order against them.

I hope this helps.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why won't they fix my bed?

Hi Mr Richard I really need your help. Please our value for our money is no longer considered in furniture stores. I lay byed a bed worth P4,000 last year August. I went to collect it but after making the payment I spent a week before getting my bed being told that its at the warehouse. I ended up getting it a week later.

After 3 months the bed started making noise. I didn't even waste time I went back to the shop to lodge a complaint and I was told it might be factory fault. They then promised to change the bed but it has been 6 months. Now every month I pay them a visit and they keep telling me the same thing.

This bed is no longer comfortable 4 me. I don't rest well because of the noise. Please help.

I think you've been very patient. Perhaps too patient!

Firstly, they failed to deliver the bed when they promised but we can probably overlook that because of the difficulties we've all experienced in the last year.

What matters most is that the bed wasn't in a good enough state. Section 14 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Act says that consumers have a right to "the use, delivery or installation of goods that are free of defects and are of a quality that consumers are reasonably entitled to expect". You are entitled to bed that allows you to sleep comfortably. That's what anyone would think they are "reasonably entitled to expect".

Then there's the warranty that came with the bed. You don't say how long the warranty lasted but I guess it was a year. The best thing you did was to highlight the problem with the bed as soon as you could and it's simply unacceptable that the store has taken so long and made so many broken promises to you. The Act also says that when delivering services to a consumer, they have a right to "timely performance and completion of those services (and) timely notice of any unavoidable delay". They failed.

I've emailed the Head Office for the company and they responded saying "that the complaint has been logged and further feedback will be provided once an update is received."

Let's see what they think they can do.

Where's my vehicle?

I ordered a vehicle from in December 2020 and was promised that it will be delivered around February or March 2021. The vehicle has never been delivered and I later realised that I have been scammed by someone hiding behind the company signage. I paid $4,800 and the police here say Interpol does not investigate anything less than $5,000. Is there anything I can do? I tried to report this to the company but to my surprise it appears the scammer has access to the number that in my view had thought its a genuine contact number. 

The scammer gave me the bank account number from the UK registered under "their company". Their office line from London is not accessible. It uses an answering pre-recorded voice detector that automatically hangs up if it does not recognize ones voice.

I have all along been trying to get hold of the actual company management to report the issue to them but unfortunately I haven't been able to contact them.

I don't think I can offer you any good news or reason to be optimistic. I checked the company you named in the UK and there are many suspicious things about them. Firstly, they claim to have an office in central London but the address they gave is just a serviced office that anyone can use wherever they are in the world. Also, there's no company with the name you gave that is registered in the UK.

I think it's still worth applying pressure to the local company to see if they can establish how this person managed to scam you. It's their name and reputation at stake and it's in their interests to try and help you and prevent other people becoming victims.

Saturday, 19 June 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why can't they refund me?

My mom bought rafters for roofing from on the 3rd of June 2021 and was told they would be delivered which didn't happen. She tried calling them but the phone rang unanswered, she then went to their shop and was told that they were waiting for some people from around our area to buy so that they can deliver at once, which was not the agreement. She then arranged for transport to get them herself. Today when she got there they told her that they don't have them on stock which was surprising because they never said they don't have them and they were there on display. She then asked for a refund and the person told her that I (because she was swiping with my card) have to go to my bank and request that they write a letter confirming that the account is mine.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

I think this store needs to learn a few lessons about customer service. And also what the Consumer Protection Act says about the way consumers should be treated.

Section 7 (1) of the Act says that
"A supplier shall not advertise any particular goods or services as being available at a specified price in a manner that may result in consumers being misled or deceived as to the actual availability of those goods or services".
In simpler terms, a company can't advertise things they don't have, unless they're very clear that they don't have them. It also really shouldn't matter whether they have other customers buying things so they can deliver them all at once.

The Act then outlines what happens if a company fails to abide by the Act. It says that if goods
"are not availed as advertised, the consumer shall have the right to cancel the contract (and) the supplier shall refund the consumer the amount paid".
That's really not complicated is it? The only real difficulty is that the refund needs to be made to the account that paid for the goods, in this case your bank account. However, I don't think they need anything from your bank to do that. If you swiped using your card then they can just reverse it. It's their job to figure out how to do that.

Scam alert! 

There is a guy saying that he works for Botswana Railways. He is handing out counterfeit RFQs (Request for Quotation). He emailed me from an email address looking for 6 heavy duty drainage pumps. We quoted him and the quote totalled to about P6 million. He then phoned our office in Francistown and told us to go ahead with the order. He said once the pumps arrived in Francistown he would then organize his own transportation to collect the pumps and take them to Mahalapye.

This was all too suspicious for me as he only dealt with me over the phone and email and refused to come to our branch in Francistown. I then ended up calling Botswana Railways in Mahalapye. They said the guy left BR many years ago. They also said any email coming from a government organization should never end in .com it should always end in .bw.

I'm very glad you were skeptical. I've seen a series of scams like this over the last couple of years. They always involve someone pretending to represent a government department or parastatal who claims they need a proposal to deliver expensive equipment. There are often very professionally presented and the forms they send over look authentic. They also always give the name of someone who sounds real. It's only if you look closely that you can spot the clues that it's a scam. It's things like the scammers using a .com address, not a .bw one. The other clue is that organisations like Botswana Railways don't approach total strangers and offer them business. They have procurement processes, often very slow and cumbersome ones.

Sooner or later this guy would have demanded a payment from you, either a tender fee or some import duty. Whatever they say the payment is for, that's what this is all about. It's an 'advance fee' they'll demand you pay and as soon as you pay them they'll start inventing a series of other payments until you either realise it's a scam or you run out of money. I've heard from victims who've lost hundreds of thousands to scams exactly like this. Let's all spread the word to other potential victims and help them to be as skeptical as you!

Saturday, 12 June 2021

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can't I be refunded?

May you please advise on the situation below.

This past weekend I booked a room for one night P550 at a guest house in Mahalapye. I paid for the room and immediately left the lodge to go and finish what I was doing. Approximately 1 and a half or 2 hours later I called the lodge to cancel my booking. My cancellation was acknowledged and I was told to come see the owner on Saturday. Due to my tight schedule I couldn't go on Saturday and went on Sunday.

The owner was not there and I was informed that she left a message that said I will not be refunded because I inconvenienced them. I expected to be charged a penalty fee and given some of the money back because I informed them well on time but they refused. They told me that the person I talked to on the phone when I was cancelling did not work for the lodge. Now the question is can someone who does not work for the lodge be answering phones on their behalf?

Hope to hear from you soon.

Most hotels and guest houses have a cancellation policy. It's normal practice. I'm sure we can all appreciate that these places take booking in good faith and then often turn away other bookings because they thought their rooms would be occupied. If the person who initially booked changes their mind the hotel has lost money.

However, these cancellation policies need to be clear and easy to understand. Another consumer contacted us this week with a similar problem. They cancelled a booking a few weeks before they were scheduled to arrive and were surprised when they only got 75% of their booking fee back. That's because the cancellation policy said any booking cancelled more than 5 days ahead would incur a 25% cancellation fee. Cancellations later than that would result in a higher fee.

I don't know what the cancellation policy is for the guest house you checked into says but I'm certain of one thing. Anyone who cancels their booking after they've arrived isn't going to get anything back and I don't think that's unreasonable.

What should she do?

Good day. A friend bought a couch on hire purchase but now she's struggling to pay. She wants to return it but the shop says she still has to pay all the money. What does the law say about this? Kindly advise.

The bad news is that the shop staff are correct. If she returns the couch either voluntarily or if they repossess it, the store will then auction it but they'll probably only get a fraction of the original purchase price from the sale. They'll then deduct that money from the balance your friend owes but it's likely that when they add on the penalties, interest, debt collection fees and all the other costs she'll still owe them a lot of money, perhaps even more than she owes already. And the final insult is that despite owing them even more money that she does now, she won't even have a couch.

Hire purchase really is a terrible way to buy things. It's horribly expensive, the law offers you hardly any rights you can use to protect yourself and if things go wrong, you can end up in tremendous debt. I've always urged anyone who can't afford to buy something new either to save the money or to buy something second-hand instead.

We should also urge the authorities to consider a comprehensive Credit Act that governs all forms of sale on credit and hire purchase. Consumers have many protections offered by various laws but we need one that protects us against hire purchase going wrong. We've been waiting a long time.

Regarding your friend, she should talk to the store as soon as possible and explain her situation. With luck the store will help her negotiate a repayment plan she can afford.