Saturday 26 September 2020

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

How many chairs should they fix?

Mr. Harriman please help me. I took my 6 dining chairs to a cleaning company which volunteered to return them to my house after being cleaned. I realised later that 2 of them were damaged. I called the company and went to them with the photos of the damaged chairs. The guys who delivered the chairs 'neglected' to tell me that the chairs had fallen on to the tarmac when delivering them to my house. The 2 damaged chairs were returned to the cleaning company and the other 4 at my house. They asked me to look for material for covering all 6 chairs which I did. Now they have covered the 2 damaged chairs and are refusing to cover the remaining 4.

The owner of the company is telling me that I chose expensive material and he won't cover the remining 4 chairs. I was never told that there is a price limit on the material I choose. They previously told me they would cover all 6 and not 2.

Is this fair on me?

No, I don't think this is fair on you at all. You had a right to expect that the cleaning company would treat your property as if it was their own property. You had a right to expect that if an accident happened (as they sometimes do) they would fix whatever damage they caused.

However, I think the company made a terrible mistake, one that might cost them a lot of money. I think they were probably only required to fix the damage they actually caused. I don't think they were obliged to do anything to the four chairs they didn't damage. Obviously they're required to do their very best to fix the two damaged chairs as well as they could and so they matched the undamaged ones but I don't think they had to do anything more than that.

However, if they put the promise to repair all six in writing you might be able to force them to do it, otherwise I think the best you can do is to demand that the two damaged chairs are repaired so they are as close to the undamaged ones as possible. That really is the LEAST they can do.

Can I get a refund??

I need your help. There is a furniture company on Facebook. I paid them P2,110 for the furniture of which the initial price was P2,999. After paying them my probation was not successful. I contacted the lady who then said it's fine she will deliver the tables, I will pay her when I find a job. I started becoming suspicious. Mind you I have never met this lady in person, we only spoke on the phone and through Whatsapp. I had asked the lady to refund me but she has been taking me from pillar to post. What can I do?

Facebook is a great thing. It's obviously a mixed blessing, it has both good and bad sides. We've learned that we can't completely trust Facebook with the data they collect on us, that they exist to make money, not offer things for free and we pay them not with money but with our privacy.

However, I also think Facebook has been a force for good. It offers us ways to communicate, share information and learn that are unlike anything in the past. It also allows people to operate businesses like nothing before. What hasn't changed is that some people can't be trusted.

Part of your problem is that you've never met this person in person, I suspect you don't have a sale agreement in writing, you haven't paid the full amount for the furniture and this is going to be very difficult to fix. In normal circumstances I would suggest approaching the Small Claims Court but given the Covid situation I'm not sure they'll be operating at full effectiveness these days. I suggest we use the same tools she's using for business against her. Let's fight fire with fire, Facebook with Facebook. Start by posting a negative review on her page and keep doing so until she responds. You can also post a complaint in the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. You'll be surprised how effective that can be. Let's see if we can get that refund for you.

Saturday 19 September 2020

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where's my money?

I need your assistance, I engaged a lawyer in 2017 to collect my money from someone who owed me P35,000. I have discovered that this guys have already collected close to P20,0000. The only money I got from them is P5,000. Now they are no longer communicating with me. They are now collecting and keeping it for themselves. They now quiet about they no longer answer my calls.

Please intervene in this issue.

I respect lawyers. Ok, let me correct that. I've had the privilege to know a lot of attorneys over the years and many of them are the most decent, principled, honorable, trustworthy people. Some of them have become good friends. So I respect SOME lawyers.

However, like many professions, there are sometimes people who let their profession down. There are obviously people who don't uphold the highest levels of conduct that we, as their clients, have a right to expect. Just read The Voice over the years and you'll see evidence of lawyers misbehaving.

Maybe we have another here. In theory the best option is to complain to the Law Society of Botswana who regulate attorneys. However, I'm told that they are struggling to manage the number of complaints they have before them and their turnaround times are difficult if you want rapid justice. So let's try the direct approach. I've contacted the attorney and presented your situation and asked him for his reaction to your accusations. Maybe there's an innocent explanation. Maybe there isn't. Either way, let's see how he responds. Or does he want to become famous in The Voice?

What should I do about this loan?

Hi Mr. l was working in government and l was having a case at work and l was dismissed from work. The time l was being dismissed l was having a loan from 2018. In December my loan balance was P15,666. Then I went to the bank to tell them my problem. Since December because I was no longer working l decided to pay 200, 300 or 400 to pay off the loan. l have already paid around P7,000 trying up to pay off my loan. So last week I tried to check my balance and they say it is P17,000. So this is really stressing me please help me.

Unfortunately, banks aren't always as kind, caring and compassionate as we might want. The only reason banks exist is to make money and one of the many ways they do this is by lending money to people like you and me and then charging us interest. They're not likely to change their minds about the interest they want from us, regardless of how desperate we might be.

The most important thing you can do, and this is often something many people avoid when they're in financial difficulties, is to keep talking to the bank. Given that all they want is their money back it IS in their interests to negotiate a repayment plan that satisfies their need for money and your need to continue to pay the rent and buy food.

I suggest that you talk to the bank as soon as possible and have this discussion.

The lesson from all of this is that whenever possible we need to avoid debt. Almost all of us need to borrow money to buy houses and cars but the sad news is that much of the debt we incur isn't as necessary as we think. I've seen people borrowing money to buy household goods when there are plenty of places you can buy such things second hand. I've heard of people borrowing money just to fund a lifestyle they can't afford. I've even encountered people who've taken bank loans in order to join pyramid and Ponzi schemes. That's the height of madness.

The sensible thing to do before you borrow any money is to talk to people you trust. Not the people you know who are already in massive debt but those who've managed to avoid the debt trap. Find out how they live their lives and do your best to copy them!

Saturday 12 September 2020

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Where’s my company registration?

My friend and I took a decision to use a consultancy to do for us company registration packages this year March 2020 for P1,000. Since then we paid the first half then after lockdown went to pay the remaining balance but still we do not have our package. When we try to search our proposed name on the CIPA website no name appears even to date.

We have tried to call him and visit his office countless times but he doesn't answer or respond to our texts. It seems we are not of value but we are clients who paid the full amount for the packages. we are not being taken seriously as customers more so that after 5 months of enlisting their services nothing has been fruitful as such we are looking for a refund because they have wasted our time, money and resources following them up which we could have used on other projects and avenues.

I think we all understand by now that Covid-19, the various lockdowns and the distancing restrictions the authorities have implemented, while obviously necessary for public health, have disrupted many aspects of our lives. That’s the price we’ve paid for Covid having such low impact on us. So far.

I’m sure we all also understand the impact it’s had on business. It’s made life MUCH harder for us all, companies and their customers.

However, the lockdown and other restrictions are no excuse for companies stealing our money and that’s what this company has done. Firstly, you should report them to the Competition and Consumer Authority so they’re aware that they have a rogue company to deal with. I can also get in touch with them to make them understand that not only have they offended you and me but they’ve also offended every reader of The Voice. You should then also inform CIPA so they know as well.

By the way, you know it’s really a LOT easier these days to form a company with CIPA online?

Where’s my settlement letter?

Good afternoon. I need to make an inquiry. I bought furniture through hire purchase and due to financial constraints I have sought to apply for a personal loan from my banker. My banker has since asked me to avail a settlement letter with their account number which I ought to get from the furniture shop so that the bank can clear my account with the shop.

Getting the settlement letter has proved futile because I get given one story after the next and now a month has since passed without getting any help. I am at my wits end and I feel the furniture shop is delaying deliberately so as to score more monies (via interest as well as monthly instalments) at my expense! Kindly assist me if this should really take this long?

Thank you in anticipation.

I think you’ve explained very well why furniture stores are so keen to sell things on hire purchase. It’s because they make LOTS of money from it. Many years ago, I had a conversation with the Regional Manager of one of the South African furniture store chains. He made me promise never to identify the company but he told me “We’re not really in the furniture business, we’re in the money-lending business.”

There are two possibilities here. Either you’re right and they are deliberately delaying giving you the settlement lesson you requested so they can keep you paying them for as long as possible or they’re incompetent. Either way you have a right to expect better from them. Either way you deserve a reasonable level of service.

Let’s both approach the store and remind them that Section 14 of the Consumer Protection Act says that
“where a supplier undertakes to perform any services for or on behalf of the consumer, the consumer has a right to … the performance of the services in a manner and quality the consumers are reasonably entitled to expect”.
That part of the Act makes it clear that we can’t expect miracles but we ARE entitled to a reasonable level of service. It doesn’t say what ‘reasonable’ means but we ALL know when it’s ‘unreasonable’. Your case is definitely in the “unreasonable” category. Let’s help them to understand that as well.

Saturday 5 September 2020

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

What should I do?

I bought goods from a furniture shop by credit paying instalment every month. I have been paying them every month without skipping. So because of lockdown I failed to pay them. I'm a business lady selling food but since there is no money to pay, they are approaching me to take goods from me now through a debt collector so I need your help please.

I told them like now I still don’t have money but they insisted to pay before 5th September. I owe P3,400 arrears. The total of the goods was P17,000 before.

Hire purchase is a difficult enough way to buy thing in normal times but it’s just become so much worse in the times of Covid-19. There are many problems with hire purchase but the fundamental problem is that you don’t own the items you think you’re buying, you’re just hiring them. Until the day you pay the last instalment the goods still belong to the store that delivered them. That means that whenever you fall behind with your instalments the store can just come and collect them without going through a lengthy court process. And then, even after the goods might have been repossessed, you still owe the store money because the auction value of the repossessed goods is so low compared to your outstanding debt.

Unfortunately, things just got worse for everyone during the Covid-19 lockdown. We’ve all had to cope with a reduced income and that has hit people with hire purchase debts particularly hard. While the banks and other lenders were encouraged to show their customers some flexibility that message didn’t reach the hire purchase lenders and I think that was a mistake.

Realistically, the only thing you can try is to approach either the store or the deb collector and do your best to negotiate a repayment plan that you can afford and which offers them the money you owe as quickly as they can tolerate. You might be surprised how willing they are to do a deal with you. Good luck.

What are my rights?

I would like your help please. On the 30th July I bought a charger at a cellphone shop in Airport Junction for P150. They promised me the charger was good quality. Fast forward a month later, the adaptor isn't working and the cord seems to be faulty as it makes the electricity go off when I plug it onto another charger adaptor. I called the store and the lady I spoke to said that they don't have warranties for chargers, something they didn't communicate with me when I bought the charger. Secondly the box that came with the charger said it has a 1 year warranty. I don't think I trust them to replace this charger because I fear that they may give me another faulty device. Am I entitled to a refund? I have the receipt and everything. The adaptor even still has the plastic wrapping it came with.

The good news for you is that the Consumer Protection Act is on your side. The bad news for this store is that they clearly have no idea what the law says. Let’s fix that.

I think you should go back to the store and tell them that Section 15 (1) of the Consumer Protection Act of 2018 says that a consumer “has the right to receive goods which are of good quality, in good working order and free of defects". But what happens if those goods don’t satisfy that requirement?

Section 16 (2) of the Act says that a consumer "may return goods to a supplier in their merchantable or original state, within six months after the delivery of the goods, without penalty and at the supplier’s risk and expense, if the goods fail to satisfy the requirements and standards" required in the Act.

So that’s exactly what you should do. Return the charger to the store and explain both these parts of the law to the store manager. You might need to use very simple language so they understand it fully and recognise their obligations. Let me know if they need it in writing!

Update: I heard from the reader that the store gave her a replacement charger. Sometimes all it takes is a little understanding of consumer rights and the courage to demand that a store honours them!