Friday 17 July 2015

The Regulations

It’s time again to go over some of the rules about how stores, in fact anyone who sells you anything must behave. These are the rules listed in the Consumer Protection Regulations, these are the things that everyone should know about before the even consider buying things. These are the rules that can protect you and your money.

Perhaps the most useful of all the Regulations is Section 13 (1) (a) which says that commodities and services must be “of merchantable quality”. The Regulations define this as “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased". What this means in simple terms is that things should work. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cellphone, a laptop, a car or a sofa, it should do what it’s meant to do.

It also means that if something goes wrong or breaks (and it wasn’t your fault) you are entitled to return it to the store to have one of the three ‘R’s: a refund, repair or a replacement. Critically though, the store can decide which of the three ‘R’s you get. A store is within its rights to try and repair something to begin with. However it that doesn’t work (and we’ve heard of people who had to take a laptop back for repair five or six times) you are entitled to tell the store that the product is clearly not of merchantable quality and you need a replacement or a refund. That’s what you’re entitled to get.

Here’s another thing. It doesn’t matter whether the product came with a warranty or not. Even if the store offers no warranty they must still obey the “merchantable quality” and “fit for the purpose” tests.

Section 13 (1) (c) is just as useful. It says that a store can’t claim that something “is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand. It means that items previous customers have returned or which have been repossessed or items that were on display in the store can’t be sold as new, the store must be perfectly honest about this. No exceptions. New means new.

Section 13 (1) (e) is one that we should all know about. It’s one that protects us against a very common type of abuse that’s probably affected every one of us. I know it’s affected me. Have you ever reached the checkout of a store only to find that the price you’re charged is not the same as the price on the shelf or the price in the advertisement? This section says that items must be sold "as advertised or represented”. Remember that next time there’s a problem with the price you’re charged. Don’t let stores get away with it.

The next one sounds vague but it’s actually hugely powerful. Section 15 (1) (a) says that services must be offered “with reasonable care and skill”. You can’t expect miracles from a supplier when they deliver a service but you can expect the services you’re paying for to be delivered reasonably well and by people who have reasonable levels of knowledge and talent. Next time your mechanic, your computer technician, your electrician, plumber or carpenter screws up, remind them of this one.

The next one is one of my favourites. Section 15 (1) (b) says that you cannot claim “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. You want an example? Syntek's "Xtreme Fuel Treatment" product has been sold by a number of people around Botswana for a couple of years.

Their South African web site makes a number of claims about the product including that it: “dramatically reduces the amount of harmful emissions produced by your vehicle or equipment”, “prolongs engine life” and that it “increases fuel mileage and economy.” They also claim that it “changes the surface structure of the fuel to achieve a more efficient combustion process."

But is there actually an evidence that this product works?

Absolutely none. The so-called “evidence” that the distributors sent me was nothing of the sort. There is, to this day, precisely no evidence that their product does anything at all apart from make a few people at the top of their distribution pyramid very rich.

Obviously they’re breaking this section of the regulations by making these claims.

A few sections later your right to get a refund is confirmed. Section 15 (1) (e) says that when a contract or a deal is cancelled according to the terms of the agreement or of law, you are entitled to have any deposit you’ve made refunded. It even says that you are entitled to get the refund “promptly”. We heard some while ago from a consumer who cancelled the purchase of some furniture when the store failed to deliver it after several weeks. She was perfectly within her rights to do this because they had completely failed to meet their side of the bargain. However the store told her that she couldn’t have a refund because they had no cash. Presumably they hadn’t heard of bank transfers? Instead they suggested she come back at the end of the month when other customers would have paid their hire purchase installments and the store would have lots of cash.

Does that sound like “promptly” to you? It didn’t to us either. We called the store and miraculously the store suddenly found that there were, in fact, able to find the money to refund her.

These are just some of the Regulations that you can use to protect yourself. Memorize a few of them and I guarantee you’ll be less likely to be a victim of abuse.

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