Saturday 27 May 2017

Your rights

How well do you know your rights as a consumer? In fact, did you even know that you had any rights? I think it’s time to remind ourselves of some of our rights, the rights that the laws of Botswana give us. Specifically, those given to us by the Consumer Protection Regulations.

Perhaps the most important comes from Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations. This says that “any supplier who offers a commodity or service to a consumer fails to meet minimum standards and specifications if … the commodity sold … is not of merchantable quality”. “Merchantable quality” is defined in the Regulations as “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased, as it is reasonable to expect in light of the relevant circumstances”.

Put simply this means that what you buy must actually DO what you were told it would do or what you could reasonably think it would do. A cellphone must be able to make and receive both phone calls and text messages. If you were told that you’d be able to surf the web with it then that must be true. An iron must heat up and allow you to press your clothes. A vehicle must be capable of transporting you from A to B.

The same section forbids suppliers from offering items that don’t “match any sample or description given to the consumer” or that aren’t fit “for any particular purpose made known by the consumer”. In other words what the guy in the stores says about the item you buy must be true. If you request a particular function or capability from the store then that’s what you must be given. Otherwise they’re in trouble.

Section 13 (1) (c) is another powerful weapon. This says that a supplier has transgressed if “representation is made that the commodity is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”. In other words, new means new. A store is simply prohibited from selling you something that isn’t new unless they make it very clear that this is the case. A sofa they repossessed from a customer yesterday can’t be sold as new. The same goes for a cellphone that was returned by another customer, even if they never actually used it. It someone else took it out of the box and touched it, it’s no longer new. It’s as simple as that.

One of my favourites is Section 13 (1) (e) which says that a supplier is in trouble if “the advertisement or representation of a commodity or service is made with the intent not to dispose of the commodity or service as advertised or represented”.

I think you can interpret that in a number of really useful ways. It means, for instance, that if an item is priced on the store’s shelf as P35.95 and when you get to the till they try and charge you P45.95 then they’re broken that rule. They’re not selling it as it was “advertised or represented”, are they? It also means that if something is advertised for sale in South African Rands then you should be able to pay for it in Rands. Most of us have seen this, sometimes with just a Rand sticker, other time with both a Rand price and a Pula price. I think this mean you can demand to pay using the Rands you have left over from your last trip south. In fact, you should try that next time you see something priced in Rands. The store will say No of course but it’s worth explaining to them that you know your rights and are prepared to stand up for them.

I also have a fondness for Section 15 (1) (b) which says that a supplier fails “to meet minimum standards of performance” if they quote “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”.

You know what that means? It means homeopathy, reflexology, acupuncture and all those silly electronic devices with names like QXCI, SCIO, and “Quantum Resonance Magnetic Analyzer” are all in breach of the law and that anyone peddling them and making ridiculous claims about their benefits are acting illegally.

In fact, the people who were doing their best last year to sell that last one, the absurdly named “Quantum Resonance Magnetic Analyzer” made some remarkable claims. They said that once you’re plugged into the device you’ll get “a complete body assessment” and that a “98 page report is generated reflecting various conditions of the body’s health systems producing 39 reports and 238 test results.”

They went on to claim that it can test you for 41 different areas, including “Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular”, “Brain Nerve”, “Blood Sugar”, “Immune System”, “Human Toxin”, “Heavy Metal” and “Basic Physical Quality”.

That’s nonsense. Nonsense that breaches the Consumer Protection Regulations.

Section 15 (1) (d) of the Regulations says that a supplier “shall fail to meet minimum standards of performance if” they advertise something “with intent not to supply reasonably expected public demand”. So a special offer or a discount that is advertised has to be backed up by sufficient quantities of the product to satisfy a normal level of interest. For instance a store can’t advertise fantastic reductions on the price of televisions if there’s only one discounted TV in stock.

The only exception to this rule is “unless the advertisement discloses a limitation of quantity”. So if the store only has a handful of items they want to discount and dispose of they have to be open and honest about that. All it takes is for them to say something like “but we only have 5 left, it’s first-come, first served!” Anything else is abuse.

Source: A poll conducted on May 2017 on Facebook.
Yes, Facebook, so you know it's meaningless, Ok?
These are just some of the protections that consumers in Botswana have. It’s just a shame that so few people know about them. In a recent survey we asked how well protected consumers felt they were and around 90% said that they felt we’re either badly or very badly protected and that’s a shame because the opposite is actually true. We just don’t know about it.

We do now.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Do I have a case?

I have an issue which I need advice on. A few years ago I borrowed four grand from a cash loan and whilst I had no job I went to the owner and informed him I don't work anymore then he said I should pay if I can so I started paying 500,100,1500. And that's 2013. While I was at some company for a little while some sheriff comes and instructs me to pay all the amount which I owe or else I will be put to jail. I ended up paying 13,000 but now my question is was it lawful for me to be charged so much? If I have a case who can I consult to assist me because I believe I wasn't charged accordingly. I asked him to find my file but he keeps giving me silly excuses.

Oh yes, you certainly have a case. And this cash loan company has a case to answer.

Here’s something this loan shark, sorry, I mean microlender, seems to have overlooked. The “in duplum” rule. This piece of common law says that when you settle a debt the interest charged cannot be greater than the outstanding capital amount you owe. So if you still owed P3,000 from the P4,000 you borrowed the lender can’t charge you more then P3,000 interest on top of the P3,000 you owe. In that example they can’t charge more than P6,000, plus of course any reasonable debt collection costs.

In your case the lender has clearly ignored this. You borrowed P4,000 and even if you never paid them back anything the settlement value can’t be more that P8,000 plus costs. Given that you paid back at least P2,000 these numbers simply don’t work out.

I suggest that you contact NBFIRA, the Non Bank Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority who oversee and regulate the micro-lending industry. Go and see them and ask them to investigate the lender to see if they can force him to start obeying the rules.

Is this a genuine job offer?

Please help me and tell me if this is a genuine job offer. Air Canada have offered me a job as a Meeting/Event Planner in Canada paying US$71,840 per annum.

No, this is certainly not a genuine job offer, there’s no doubt about it.

There are several clues in the letter they sent you. Firstly, why would a Canadian company offering someone a job in Canada offer a salary in US dollars? And why would they offer a job and then incur the expense of flying someone halfway round the planet when 6.5% of Canadians are currently unemployed?

Other clues are the terrible spelling in the letter (“this offer will laps if it is not accepted”), the fact that they’re using a free email address (not “”) and the extraordinary salary. They want to pay you P750,000 to plan hotel events? I think not.

I’m prepared to bet that you haven’t even been interviewed for this job, have you? I bet it was what they called an “online interview” which involved nothing more than completing a questionnaire and emailing it to them. I bet you haven’t even spoken to anyone either? Tis isn’t how real companies recruit news staff. Real companies interview people face-to-face. Always.

This is the beginning of an advance fee scam. What these people are seeking is a payment they’ll demand from you before you get the job they’re pretending to offer you. It’s usually a “visa fee” they say is necessary before you can travel. If you pay them all that will happen is that they’ll demand more and more money from you and that will only stop when you finally realize you’re being scammed or you run out of money. And remember that scammers don’t offer refunds, they’ll be too busy sending your money to their criminal overlords. And yes, I do mean that. Don’t imagine that these scams are perpetrated by some teenagers in a Lagos internet cafĂ©, this is organized crime.

Please just delete their email and don’t respond to any messages from them.

Saturday 20 May 2017

Protect your technology

What impact would it have if your computer stopped working? If every computer in your business stopped functioning, could you continue? Would your business survive?

Given how many companies rely on technology for their communications, accounts, personnel records and customer databases, I suspect that if they failed most companies would simply fold.

Yes, you’ll say, we have backups of everything but what if they were corrupted as well?

Last week the BBC reported that “200,000 victims in 150 countries” had been infected by a piece of malware called WannaCry. The malicious software had affected hospitals throughout the UK and the attack “left hospitals and doctors unable to access patient data, and led to the cancellation of operations and medical appointments.” The attack also affected systems in several European countries and victims in Russia were hit hard.

WannaCry is an example of “ransomware”, a particularly vicious descendant of the old-fashioned computer virus. Once it gets onto the victim’s computer it then encrypts the contents. All the documents on the computer are still there but you can’t open them any more. Instead the victim is presented with a message saying that if they want to access their documents they need to pay the criminals behind the scheme the equivalent of P3,000 but not by any conventional means. Like all criminals who kidnap for ransom, they want paying in an untraceable form, in this case using Bitcoin.

This particular example is focussed specifically on Windows computers and it seems that the people most likely to be infected are either those using older version of Windows, or those who haven’t been downloading the regular security updates that Microsoft releases. It also does its best to spread itself across any network it finds itself occupying so once one computer is infected, all the others on the network can be infected as well.

A danger with ransomware that encrypts your data is that it can even encrypt your backups so it’s not as if you can just delete everything and restore them from yesterday’s backup.

So what would happen to your business if all your files were suddenly inaccessible? Would you be able to continue? How would you sell anything? How many customers would you have left by the end of the week?

The solution is simple. Secure your computers. Keep your software up to date, switch on the firewall that comes with all computers these days, use the anti-virus and anti-malware protection mechanisms that are freely available and then be careful. Don’t download anything from web sites you don’t already trust, don’t allow your staff to download software at all, fire anyone who downloads pirated music or video files and ban people from sticking their sticks into your available slots.

Yes, it’s just like protecting yourself from any other type of infection. Don’t allow alien substances to penetrate your defences.

So is this a consumer issue? Yes, of course it is.

I don’t want to be in a relationship with a bank, insurance company, pension scheme or government department that doesn’t protect itself against security threats, either conventional one such as break-ins and armed robberies but also modern ones such as cyber-attacks.

Why? Because one of the things they have that criminals want to steal is my information. They want to steal my user id and password for my bank’s online banking scheme so they can sign on and steal my money.

I also don’t want to leave myself unprotected. I don’t want hackers infecting my computer and either holding me to ransom, stealing my personal details or hijacking my computer and using it to spread their malware further.

Ironically protecting yourself from cyber infection is about as easy and cheap as it is to protect yourself against any other form of infection. If you use a modern release of Windows, it comes with built-in protection mechanisms. You can buy software on top of that but you really don’t need to, despite what many retailers will tell you.

Most importantly you must keep your version of Windows up-to-date. If you’re still using Windows XP then are asking for serious trouble. That hasn’t been safely protected for several years and you need to move to a more modern version.

But what if you can’t afford to do that? What if Windows 10 is out of your price range? What if a computer powerful enough to run it is also too pricey?

Then be radical. Go for the entirely legal, safe and free option. Yes, I DO mean free. Install a version of Unix such as Ubuntu or Linux. You can download this for free and it comes with the equivalent of Word, Excel and Powerpoint and it’s really easy to use. And it even runs on the oldest, lowest power machines you can find. I’ve done it several times and I have computers at home and in the office running it right now. And did I mention it’s entirely free? And did I also mention that like its distant cousin, the Mac, a computer running Unix is almost immune from viruses and malware?

Price really is no excuse for most people these days.

I think the lesson is that technology is at the heart of almost everything we do in 2017 and we need to catch up in order to protect ourselves. We need to understand the technology we use better and for some of us that’s easy but for many others it’s a scary, alien environment. That’s one of the reasons we see the curse of modern technological life: missing airtime and data. Yes, our cellphone network providers have occasionally had technological problems and have lost our data but on the vast majority of occasions it really was us that used the data, we just didn’t know we’d done it. Nobody had taken the time to explain how much data the Facebook app uses, how much video files use and how the setting within these apps can exhaust your data in moments, particularly now we have 4G networks.

I suppose you could wait for companies to start educating us about these things but I think it’s too important to wait. Start educating yourself on how to use your technology safely.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Whose job is it to fix my fridge?

Hello. Please advise. On March I bought a Samsung fridge and they delivered it to my house. Immediately after I switched it on it gave a horrible sound. I reported it to the store and they sent their agent to my house to check it and he told me it is the compressor. I then went to Samsung and asked about it and they told me its not the compressor and the fridge might have a fault. Then I reported this back to the store and they sent the same guy to my house. He came and opened it and then he told me if the sound persist I should call him. It did and I called him and he told me they have to collect it from my house to fix the problem at their office.

Well I demanded a refund or exchange because they are going in circles. I told them I can’t expect a new fridge to be fixed. Now the manager is telling me that if they have to give me a new fridge they have to be given authority by their agent. Firstly I didn’t buy a fridge from their agent and I did buy from them. What can I do?

I’m sorry for your trouble. Unfortunately, we hear this story very often. You buy something brand new and then it goes wrong and the store start doing their best to confuse you about your rights. The most important thing to understand is that you bought the fridge from the store. Not from their agent, not from the manufacturer, you bought it from the store and it’s therefore the store’s job to fix any problems that occur.

Section 17 (1) (d) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that an unfair business practice if a supplier causes “a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction”. Telling you that you must speak to another company, that they need to involve someone else in their decision-making, that you have to run around and do their work for them is an unfair business practice, don’t you think?

Unfortunately, one weakness in the Consumer Protection Regulations, an area where we fall behind some other countries, is that when something like this happens you don’t have the right to demand a particular solution. The store has the right to decide which of the three Rs they offer you: a repair, replacement or a refund. You don’t get to make that choice. Meanwhile you deserve a working fridge.

We’ll get in touch with the store for you and see fi they can’t be a bit more helpful and give you what you deserve.

Where’s the two hundred grand?

I just want to find out if it's possible to help my dad on a banking issue. The bank over deducted close to P200 000 and they actually agree that they made a mistake in making him pay over and above the actual owed sum but instead of paying him back the money, they have been giving him the run around for over 6 months now.

What happened is that my dad took a loan some years back but even after completing the payment, they continued deducting for over 10 years and when my dad eventually figured out what was going on, they apologised but continued to deduct and only stopped after a while. What can he do?

I’m glad I was sitting down when I read your message.

That really is a staggering level of incompetence. I admit I’m not an expert on banking computer systems but surely the system knows to stop deducting when the outstanding balance reaches zero? Unless they entered the wrong details when they first set up the loan but either way they’ve let your father down badly.

Secondly, when an organisation realises that they’ve made a mistake, particularly one as massive as this, I think they should be doing their best to fix it now. Right now. Not after they’ve had a cup of tea, not next week, next month or just when they feel like doing so. It needs to be fixed the moment they’ve checked the facts and ensured they’re not being scammed. And then they need to apologize. And no, I don’t mean an apology from a low-level member of staff. For a mistake that cost P200,000 I would expect the CEO on the phone expressing their concern, regret, humble apologies and a promise that it will never happen again.

And don’t forget that your Dad could have been earning interest on that P200,000 so I’d expect them to pay him that as well.

Saturday 13 May 2017

Get it in writing!

We get a lot of people contacting us with complaints and we’re used to the emotions by now. We can cope with the anxiety, disappointment and confusion consumers are experiencing. We can deal with their anger and desire for retribution. What I sometimes find difficult to manage are my own emotions. In particular that sinking feeling in my stomach when a consumer tells me “No, it was a verbal agreement, we didn’t put anything in writing”.

Whenever I hear or read this I know life is going to be difficult. It almost always means that the consumer is completely out of luck.

We recently got the following enquiry from a member of our Facebook group.
“Hello, I was wondering if you could give me advice. I had a verbal agreement with someone early in December 2016 to sell him my car for P20 000 and he was supposed to pay the full amount by then end of December 2016. He has been telling us he is expecting money from somewhere to pay but of lately he is not picking my calls, he reads and ignores my messages including Whatsapp messages. And today I decided to call his girlfriend asking her to talk to him for me. I then received a call from him saying he is returning the car as it was giving him problems. So my worry is what if the car is no longer in a good condition?”
So you gave away your car to someone who didn’t pay you any money up front? You gave him your car without any record of any agreement between the two of you explaining who now owned it, how much he would pay and the conditions of the sale? And now he’s going to return it with mechanical problems?

Congratulations, you just lent someone your car for several months and he broke it.

And that’s the end of it.

The lack of a written agreement means there is no court that will help you. There is nothing to prove that you didn’t just lend him the vehicle. Even the least reputable attorney will probably suggest that you take back the car and live with the disappointment.

Another reader had a more complicated issue. She said:
“Hello Richard I have an issue with my ex landlord that I need advice on. She is refusing to repay my security deposit. I moved into the house in March 2015 and signed a lease agreement that stipulated that rents increases by 10% every year. Now during the signing of the lease the landlord verbally said that she won't increase rent after the first year. I moved out of the house in December after staying in the house for 1 year + 6 months. Now my landlord has gone back on her word and says I should back pay all the 10% increments from March 2016 which marks my one year stay in the house. So my question is do I really have to pay her all the 10% increments even though verbally she had said she won’t increase rent after the first year and in the past six months not once has she complained that I'm not paying the increased amount. It is only now that I have moved out of the house and I want my security back that she is bringing this up.”
Yes, I’m sorry, but you DO have to pay her the increments because that’s what you agreed to do. In writing. The so-called verbal agreement you had with the landlord doesn’t exist. It’s only a memory from two years ago. The only record is in your head and that doesn’t qualify as evidence that a court would listen to, particularly when there’s a written agreement that says something different. In fact, a court isn’t even allowed to consider your verbal agreement. The “parol rule” of evidence says that “when a transaction has been reduced into writing, the writing is regarded as the exclusive memorial of the transaction and no evidence may be given to contradict, alter, add or vary its terms”.

A verbal agreement that contradicts a written agreement doesn’t exist. It’s not an agreement at all. Forget it, it effectively didn’t happen.

Here’s a final example.

A consumer came to our office a couple of years ago and asked for our help in reclaiming some money she’d lent to a guy. He’d been a regular customer in her store and she’d grown to know him fairly well. But only as a customer, nothing more that I know of.

One time he’d asked her if she could lend him some money. Yes, I know, your alarm bells are ringing, aren’t they? Would you hand over money to someone like this? I know I wouldn’t.

Anyway, she said yes and they went to the bank to transfer the money he wanted from her account directly into his.

And that was the last she saw of her money. It was more than a year later that she came to us and he had now gone quiet on her. What could she do, she wanted to know?

I put my metaphorical amateur detective hat on and started asking some questions. When, who, where and above all, how much? How much had she lent him?

“One point five”, she told me.

Ok, I thought to myself, that’s hardly the end of the world, is it? It’s not a sum that’s going to ruin her, I thought.

But then I realised. She didn’t mean one point five thousand Pula. She meant one point five million. One and a half million Pula. To a guy she barely knew. And with no written agreement.

I think she must have realised from my face (I’m not that good an actor) that I was stunned. Rendered speechless. I promise you I did NOT use the phrase “Why does your mother allow you out alone?”

Please, I beg you to learn this very simple lesson. It won’t always solve every problem but it will go a very long way to help you if you get every financial transaction in writing. Everything. When you lend someone money, sell your car, even when you sell an old phone to an acquaintance, put the agreement in writing. You’ll thank me, I promise.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Is my phone broken?

Hi Richard! I bought a cellphone on 8 April 2017 and returned it back on 11 April after I experienced some faults on it. I used the phone only 2 days. Up to date they didn't help me. Today the shop manager told me that it will be couriered back to me since the manufacturer didn't see any fault on the phone and they insist I take the phone. The only option they have is that they can only refund me if they too found the fault I was talking about. Is it fair Richard?

Well, yes, it probably is. Up to a point.

Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations says that a store must sell goods and services that are “of merchantable quality”. The Regulations define that as “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased, as it is reasonable to expect in light of the relevant circumstances”. Put simply it means that a cellphone should do what a cellphone is meant to do. Obviously some cellphones do more than others but that’s where the “relevant circumstances” are important.

You didn’t say what exactly the faults were on your phone that prompted you to take it back but I assume they were fairly serious?

The general rule in these circumstances is that the store has three choices, the three Rs. They can offer you a replacement, a repair or a refund if it can be shown that there’s something wrong with the phone. Obviously they don’t have to do anything if there’s evidence that either you damaged the phone or there’s nothing actually wrong with it.

I suggest that you go to the store and examine the phone together and see if the faults you noticed are still there. If the faults are still there then you should firmly reject the suggestion that you take it back. You then tell them that you want one of the three Rs and ask them which they choose. On the other hand if the manufacturer is right and there’s nothing actually wrong with it then it’s time to take it home.

Once or twice?

Good day Mr. Harriman. Kindly assist me with an issue I have here. I received an SMS from the hospital saying I have an outstanding bill. On enquiry I was told that my medical aid short paid my claim.

How it happened was that my husband went to the hospital on the 14th February but was there until after midnight. Therefore the bill was only prepared on the 15th February. He had to go back on the 15th (around 7am) because the pain was back. He got another bill for that.

The medical aid say they cannot pay twice for same consultation. Who do we fight here sir: the hospital for billing him twice for a continuation; or the medical aid for refusing to pay because he had to go back as he got sick again?

Are you serious? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen all day and I’ve seen a lot of deeply silly things today.

I think you should go back to your medical aid and demand that they speak to the hospital and look at the admission times and the details of what actually happened with your husband. With luck their systems will show that he was there on two different occasions having slightly different treatment, probably even by different staff members.

I’m very often surprised by quite how ridiculous some organisations can be. We all understand that they need to have rules but when they are misinterpreted like this they seem to forget that it’s us, the customers who are inconvenienced when it’s their job to take the inconvenience on our behalf. Isn’t that why we pay them such large amounts of money?

If they don’t give you any joy let me know and we’ll get in touch with them and suggest they need to visit the hospital in person. The Psychiatry Department.

Friday 5 May 2017

The power of cash

I like cash.

I don’t mean that I like money, which actually I do, but I mean I still like having notes in my wallet. I also like online banking, cellphone banking, eWallet and all the other modern ways of moving money from A to B. But I still like cash.

I like it because it makes life easier in filling stations (I have an irrational fear of filling up and then finding that their point of sale devices aren’t working), coffee shops (where I spend much of my life) and, most importantly, any place where I want to leave a tip.

Someone contacted us recently about the issue of tipping. She asked:
“Please advise. I had a conversation with a waiter who told me that if a client pays with a card and the tip is included in the bill they are charged for the POS transaction, i.e. the waiter pays for the POS transaction. I found that very weird. So what the restaurant has done is they have passed on the 3% that they get charged to the waiter. Another scenario is that if a customer walks in has meal and for whatever reason the customer doesn't pay, and comes back they following day to pay they get a P200 fine. These kids don't earn much and all of this isn't fair according to the way I see it.”
If this is true then I share her outrage. It’s immoral, indecent and just plain wrong to punish the waiter because a customer decided to pay with their card. Yes, we probably all know that the bank charge a small fee to a store that uses a point of sale device, but that’s the cost of doing business, something the business should accept. Passing on that cost to the waiter is disgraceful.

Maybe there’s a very good reason for always carrying some cash to tip the waiters in that restaurant. In fact let’s just do that in every restaurant until we can make sure that no restaurant is behaving so badly.

Cash is also good in another sense. This time I don’t mean notes and coins but I mean money that’s yours, not someone else’s.

People sometimes accuse me of being obsessed by certain subjects and it’s possible I do repeat myself about them but that’s because I believe they’re important. I won’t stop talking about scams, Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing schemes and so-called “alternative” health products because I sincerely believe (and I’m right) that they threaten our well-being.

But a more direct threat to the average guy is something more ordinary, more mundane.

Hire purchase.

I know I’ve written this before but I make no apology for doing so again. And again and again. Hire purchase is the worst possible way of buying something. It really is.

To begin with there’s something that stores don’t explain fully and is often hidden deep in the hire purchase contract you sign. The goods you buy don’t belong to you until you pay the final instalment. Until that moment, the stove, fridge, TV or laptop you think belongs to you in fact still belongs to the store. That’s why it’s called “hire” purchase. For the two years you’re struggling to make the monthly payments, you’re just hiring the item. That’s why, if you default, the store is entitled to come and repossess it without going to court. All they’re doing is taking possession of something they own, not you.

Another thing they often don’t make perfectly clear is that if they repossess the goods, the debt doesn’t disappear. You’ll still owe either close to the outstanding balance or perhaps even more.

Let’s do the maths. Let’s say you take a liking to a TV that is on sale in a store for cash for P3,000. If you buy it on hire purchase you’ll probably spend twice the cash price, let’s assume a total of P6,000.

I’m not making this up. Already you’re paying 100% more than the cash price, just for the convenience of hiring a TV that, once you finally own it, will be two years old and that would have cost you P3,000 more than if you’d bought it for cash.

But’s only if you’re lucky not to lose your job, have your business collapse or suddenly have a disaster that meant you can’t make the payments.

If any of these things happened, maybe after a year, halfway through the hire purchase period, the store can just come round to your house and take it back. No court order, no deputy sheriff, no procedure, just a guy in a truck taking your TV away. And you still owe them half the total cost, still P3,000.

What they then do is sell the TV to recover some of the money you still owe them. But remember that the TV is now a year old, second hand and probably not in perfect condition. If you’re lucky they’ll get P500 for it. That leaves you still owing P2,500.

What often now happens is that the consumer thinks it’s all over. The TV has been repossessed so they think the debt has gone with it. Wrong. What happens is that the debt actually increases as the store adds on interest, penalties, debt collection costs and the fees charged by the law firm they’ll eventually engage. At the very least the charges will exceed the money they got from selling the TV, leaving you owing exactly what you would have owed if you still had the TV, probably a lot more. But you don’t still have the TV. You’re paying for an empty space in your sitting room.

The solution is simple. Don’t buy things on hire purchase. If you possibly can, save the same amount of money you’d spend on hire purchase for a year and you can then buy the thing for cash. If you can’t wait that long then buy something second-hand. Whatever you do, don’t sign a hire purchase agreement. It’ll cost you an enormous amount of cash you could be spending on something much better. Like living a financially stable lifestyle.

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where’s his money?

My friend moved his account to another bank last week because they offered us in my company a special loan scheme. The problem is that we have is that we are always paid on the 26th of each and every month but it’s been 3 days and his salary haven’t reported in his new bank account.

We checked with our payroll manager to see if the account number was correct and even went to the bank. The bank realised that the problem is with their system and they promised that they will fix it. Instead of contacting him he is the one who is always contacting them and they will always have some excuse to take his calls. Yesterday he went to the bank and he was told the money will report in the evening but nothing has appeared yet. He contacted the person who is dealing with his account but she gave an excuse saying they are in a meeting. These friend of mine have stop orders and things to pay but the bank seems like it doesn’t care enough, please help him.

Yes, I think you’re right. The bank doesn’t seem to care at all.

It’s the mark of a sensible, mature and ultimately successful company that when they make a mistake, as this bank appears to have done, they do their very best to fix it as quickly as possible. It’s the mark of a useless, uncaring, doomed-to-fail organisation that they fail to respond adequately, go into childish denial, or as in this case, just stop talking to their customers.

I suggest that you escalate this situation. Clearly the person you’ve been dealing with hasn’t given your friend’s situation sufficient attention. Your friend should call the branch and politely ask to speak to the manager. He should explain that their bank is causing him great inconvenience and disturbance and is wasting his time. If he isn’t able to speak to the branch manager then he should escalate further and call the Managing Directors office at Head Office. If that doesn’t work, then contact us again and we’ll see what we can do.

I’ve been blacklisted

I purchased a television on credit. Unfortunately due to ill health I could not pay the instalment as per our agreement. This led to the store handing over my name to the credit bureau. Four months back I managed to settle my outstanding balances. My expectation was that after settling my balance the store will update my payment profile at ITC. Up to now they have not done that. My major problem is that I can not be assisted on credit by any company because the store has not updated my payment profile. I have talked to them on a number of occasions but my efforts did not bear any fruit, hence I am now seeking assistance from your office.

For everyone’s benefit I should explain how credit bureaux work. Despite what many people think, they don’t just “blacklist” people. In fact, they hold a vast amount of information on all of us, both bad information such as when you defaulted on a loan, but also good information like the fact that you completed a loan successfully. That allows a prospective lender to get a full picture of you before they make a decision on whether to lend you money.

The other thing they do is hold complete history, or at least they try to. If you default on your instalments they’ll record that this happened. They should also record that some while later you caught up with your arrears and the debt was settled. That way a potential lender will see that you had a problem but also that you fixed it which might make them look on you more favourably.

The problem is that we hear quite often of stories just like yours. Once you’ve cleared your debt the store fails to update the information held by the credit bureaux. The MD of one of the bureaux once told me that it can take up to 28 days to make the update but in your case it’s taken a lot longer than it should have done. I suggest that you escalate this to the Managing Director or Regional Manager of the chain and see if a little pressure can be applied. Yes, you failed by not honouring your agreement but not you’ve caught up it’s time to allow you to move on.

If that doesn’t work, let me know and we’ll make some calls.