Friday, 24 June 2016

The rights you DON'T have

I think by now most Mmegi readers have some knowledge of their consumer rights. If you don’t you can always read the half million words in the 528 (now 529) earlier Consumer Watchdog articles that you’ll find archived on our blog.

We all know now (at least instinctively) that stores and suppliers are required to treat us fairly and honestly and they’re not allowed to lie, withhold the truth or cheat us. That’s obvious.

But what rights don’t we have? What things do some people think are consumer rights but are in fact nothing of the sort?

Recently someone in our Facebook group asked
“Please can somebody tell the supermarkets to up their services. Nowadays its like its a norm for customers to package their groceries. If the law has changed please update us who are left behind.”
But is having your bags packed at the supermarket really a consumer right? Is it something the law says they must do for you?

No, it’s certainly not. It’s a courtesy. It’s something a smart store will do to make customers feel welcome, satisfied and likely to come back again and spend more money. Yes, you have a right to feel unhappy if your bags aren’t packed for you but that doesn’t give you a right to do anything about it other than to complain and to take your custom elsewhere next time. Sorry.

It’s the same with the little courtesies that we might think we can expect when you set foot in a store. You have no right to feel welcomed. You have no right to receive a courteous smile. In fact, you have no legal right to courtesy at all. You can expect not to be insulted and not to be the victim of illegal discrimination but that’s as far as your legal expectations can go. Sorry again.

I’m not suggesting that stores shouldn’t pack your bags and that they should be discourteous. I believe the exact opposite. But that should be up to the store owners and managers. If they choose to be miserable then that’s their right, just like it’s our right as consumers not to spend our money in their stores and instead to spend it in a store that treats us better.

A lot of people seem confused by one specific question. Do you have a right to change your mind? Are you entitled to go to a shop, buy something, take it home and then change your mind and take it back and get a full refund?

No. You are not.

The only circumstances in which you are entitled to a refund are when a store has either deceived you or has so badly let you down that the item is unusable. If you buy a cellphone and it simply doesn’t work, you are entitled to one of the three ‘R’s: a refund, repair or replacement and in normal circumstances it’s up to the store to decide which of these they offer you.

Changing your mind is not one of these circumstances. Think of it from the store’s point of view. Did they do anything improper? Did they lie to you? Did they make a claim about the item that couldn’t be substantiated? If the answer is no then the sale was legal and proper. You can’t change your mind and expect the store to play ball.

Also, if they accept the item back from you, will they be able to sell it to another customer?

No, they won’t. Section 13 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Regulations forbids them from selling something that is second hand as if it was new.

So no, you have no legal right to change your mind and get your money back. Sorry yet again.

What other rights don’t you have?

We are sometimes asked by consumers to intervene when a bank has turned down a request for a bank loan or overdraft. It’s scandalous, we’re told, that the bank won’t lend me money to buy a house or car or for a project I’m working on. Don’t I have a right to borrow money?

Again no. The money you’re asking for doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to someone else. In fact, it belongs to lots of other people, possibly including me. It belongs to all the other bank customers who lent the bank their money. Don’t you think they want the bank to lend only to the safest borrowers, the ones who are most likely to repay it? Banks, like all financial institutions are required by the various authorities to lend their customer’s money carefully and responsibly. If you don’t meet those standards you don’t get to borrow. Sorry once more.

And finally, here’s an area where you have no rights. Hire purchase.

Despite the Hire Purchase Act and all the other laws and regulations we have to protect the consumers of Botswana, when you buy something on hire purchase you effectively have no protections and that’s because the Hire Purchase Act only covers purchases up to a total HP price of P4,000. When you get a chance take a look at the inserts in the newspapers and see how many items are for offer on HP and you’ll see it’s hardly any of them. What little protection the Act offers isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

That means when you have a problem and default on your repayments and the goods are repossessed you’re screwed. Not only have the goods been taken, you still owe the remaining balance (minus the tiny amount the store got when they sold the repossessed goods. When they add on the interest, debt collection fees and fees for whatever they invent you’ll find yourself owing a fortune. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You will be entirely without rights.

Clearly it’s important to know what rights you have but it’s just as important to know the ones you don’t have. They’re the ones that will hurt you the most.

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