Saturday 26 February 2022

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Do I really owe this much?

Good afternoon Mr Richard. I need help and clarity on this please.

I took a laptop from a store in 2014, then in 2015 I struggled to pay the instalments a few times. I owed less than P2,000. I then got attacked and robbed and the laptop was stolen. I took the police report to the store and they told me they can't give me another one because I failed to pay a few times and that was it. After they got the police report they went quiet from 2015 until this year they decide to call through their debt collection agency and they told me I owe close to P5,000 and even worse they wanted the money the same day. I tried to call the store to ask them and they redirected me to the regional manager who I have been leaving countless messages to and he's never gotten back to me. Up until today and all the people I've talking to in the store are surprised. I'm just lost. How can I have accumulated so much interest without my knowledge?

Unfortunately, it's very easy for a debt of P2,000 to reach P5,000 after so many years.

The only restriction on how big a debt can become is the "in duplum" rule which says that when a debt is settled the interest cannot be greater that the capital amount that is owed. So if you owed P2,000, the interest can't be more than P2,000. However, the store and the debt collector can also add legal and debt collection charges on top of that. So it could easily be P5,000.

The other bit of bad news is that because you were in arrears at the time the laptop was stolen the insurance policy that is normally included in a hire purchase agreement won't cover you. That's normal practice with hire purchase deals. If you're in arrears you don't get any of the benefits of the agreement like insurance and even the warranty.

I think the best thing to do is to speak to the debt collectors and see if you can negotiate a repayment plan you can afford.

Unfortunately, debt is immortal, it never dies.

He used second-hand stuff!

Hello Mr. Richard, I need your advice. I hired someone to do house wiring. He is the one who was buying everything that I needed to wire the house. I gave him money to do so. Then BPC came to inspect and it passed. Two days later when I connected fridge, stove etc, I realized there was no power coming through the sockets. I notified the guy and he told me it was none of his business. I went to BPC who came to check. It came out the guy has used second hand stuff which is now not working. He did not buy new things but instead got used material. I have been talking to him and he is uncooperative since December. He refuses to come and fix the problem or give me my money back. I paid all that he charged for labour. Which route would you advise me to take, that is most efficient?

I think this so-called electrician needs some education on the Consumer Protection Act. Section 5 of the Act says that a supplier
"shall not, in relation to the marketing of goods or services, by way of words or conduct falsely represent … that goods are new".
Section 14 of the Act says that when 
"a supplier undertakes to perform any services for or on behalf of a consumer, the consumer has a right to … performance of the services in a manner and quality that consumers are reasonably entitled to expect".
The same section also 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".
Clearly this guy doesn't understand any of this. It's also important to note that unlike other professions, like plumbers, carpenters and tilers, where if they get things wrong it will only affect your bank balance, if an incompetent or shady electrician gets things wrong people can die. This guy needs to understand this.

He also needs to do what the law demands. He must 
"remedy any defect in the quality of the services"
or refund you
"a reasonable portion of the price paid for the services performed and goods supplied, having regard to the extent of the failure". 
Nothing else will be enough.

Saturday 19 February 2022

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Why won't they repossess?

Good day sir! I kindly ask for your advice on something.

My brother bought a bed like some months ago and he couldn't pay his debts as he quit his job. They have been asking us about payments and we told them the best way is for them to come and collect the bed. This was last year around September or October but they didn't come.

Now they tell us they cannot take the bed because they are not supposed to take it and told us to pay P300 then they will give us some few months to settle the debt. I told them that myself I'll never pay for the bed because the debts is about P9,000.

Are the furniture shops not supposed to collect their stuff when a person fails to pay?

Somewhere in the hire purchase agreement your brother agreed there will be several terms and conditions he should have understood before he signed it.

One will talk about what happens if he lost his job. Almost certainly it will explain that if he's retrenched, an insurance policy will cover the payments he can no longer make. However, it will also make clear that it doesn't cover him if he gets fired or voluntarily quits. In those cases, he still has to pay and the store and insurance company won't help him.

It will also say that the store is entitled to repossess the goods if your brother falls behind with his instalments. However, 'entitled' doesn't mean they must do so. It's possible that the store has taken a business decision not to repossess the goods and continue to expect instalments from him. What your brother needs to understand is that repossession rarely makes the situation better. Even though the store will auction the repossessed goods, they'll only recover a small fraction of the remaining debt and the debt will likely remain the same once they add on penalties, fees and interest. It might even increase.

I know it sounds hard but the best thing your brother can do is have a conversation and do his best to agree a repayment plan he can afford.

They gave me a stolen phone!

I need advice. I bought a cell phone sometimes in 2019 and after using the phone for some months I experienced some network problems and I returned it back to the store as it was still under warranty. The phone came back very late and I continued to use the phone, but now the problem is that recently I received calls from the police informing me that they have been looking for the same phone that is in my possession. When I checked the IMEI code on the phone and on the box they do not match. The store personnel told me that there is nothing they can do as the person who was repairing my phone is no longer working there,

What should I do?

What should you do?

It's very simple. Get angry. I know that I'm angry on your behalf.

Clearly the technician who worked on your phone swapped it for a stolen phone of the same model but that's not your fault. The store clearly don't think it's their fault either and I agree but there's a big difference between fault and responsibility. They didn't swap the phone but they employed the person who did and they need to show some professional maturity and show they understand what 'responsibility' means.

I've contacted the store management and I'm optimistic that they'll do the decent thing and treat you like a valuable customer and replace your phone. They should also help you by filing a report with the Police against the technician who was fencing stolen goods. What's most important is that the store needs to take responsibility for protecting you against the consequences of their former employee's criminal tendencies.

Friday 11 February 2022

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Must I take the lounge suite?

I paid a deposit for a lounge suite in December and paid P4,000 and the balance to pay was P1,000.

The next week I went to the shop to pay the balance and I was told the sofa is at a warehouse and it will be brought into the shop for collection. They called me on Thursday for collection but I suggested today. This morning I went to collect it but the sofa had dents and scratches, so I asked for an exchange of the same product. I was told to get something in the shop in compensation for the scratches and was offered a P10 necklace. I declined and rather asked for a refund. They refused with the exchange.

Can you assist?

Yes, I think I can assist. It's not a very difficult situation.

Section 15 (1) of the Consumer Protection Act says that a consumer "has the right to receive goods which are of good quality, in good working order and free of defects". Clearly this lounge suite fails that test. I think you should continue to refuse the goods and tell them very clearly that they have failed to meet the standards required by the law and you want one of two things, either a replacement that is in perfect condition or a full refund. Please make it clear to them that you will not accept any other options.

It's time that stores like this one get themselves some education. So many stores simply ignore this very simple rule, that the goods they sell must be "of good quality, in good working order and free of defects". It's not difficult to understand and it's not too much to expect. So why do so many stores ignore the law? It's because we allow them to. However, it's now 2022 and we have a powerful law that forbids suppliers from doing certain obvious things. It's up to us as consumers to make them obey the law.

One last thing. Offering you a P10 necklace to "compensate" you for delivering defective goods is an insult. Don't they know that the maximum fine for breaching the Consumer Protection Act is a fine of P100,000 (and possibly prison time as well)? That's a lot more than P10.

Where's my computer?

Good day sir please assist me. I laybyed a computer at a certain shop now they are saying the laybye has expired and all my money gone but in their receipt there is nothing like that.

In July I paid then P700 and P350 in August. I told them for now I can't manage to pay the last P950. I can only manage at the end of April.

I have sympathy for your situation, but I also have some sympathy for the store.

You started a laybye purchase that should only have lasted a few months but after paying for two months you then went quiet for six months and what was the store meant to do? They'd put the item you wanted aside for half a year instead of making a profit by selling it to someone else. You left them in the dark about your intentions for an unreasonable time.

I contacted the store and they were impatient but reasonable. They told me that they assumed you had abandoned the purchase. They also said they weren't willing to wait for much longer for the balance and suggested that you stop paying now and take something from their store for a value equivalent to the P1,050 you've already paid. I think that's sensible.

Update: Both the customer and the store agreed that she could take anything she liked up to a value of P1,050. Both sides are now happy.

The lesson from this is not to go silent. Whether you are the consumer or the store, if there's a problem, a quick phone call, an email or a message will often be enough to explain the situation and get some sympathy. Of course, not all people are as reasonable as we'd like but you'd be surprised how many people are prepared to be tolerant and understanding.

Sunday 6 February 2022

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

He cheated me!

I hope you will be of great help to me. I am a fourth year student at XXX. So last year I paid a certain guy to help me with an assignment as it's his business. He specified that if he has done an assignment for you and you get less than the pass mark he refunds 50% of your money. Now today he ain't responding me with regards to the refund but he is very much active on Whatsapp but zero reply on my messages.

I realise that it was very wrong for me, just that I wanted to save the semester but unfortunately ended up getting lower marks.

I'm sorry, I'm not going to be a great help to you. Perhaps the only thing I'm prepared to do for you is not disclose the name of the establishment where you're studying. I'm also not going to tell them what you've done. I'm also not going to call the Police.

Forgive me for being very clear in my language. You paid someone to help you cheat on your assignment and then you're angry that the person you paid to help you cheat then cheated you?

I don't know your educational establishment well but I'm prepared to bet they have a very strict policy on student conduct in general and plagiarism in particular. I suspect they might even have a zero-tolerance policy which means anyone discovered cheating like this will immediately be shown the door.

I think the very best thing you can do is learn from this experience that cheating is unacceptable and that the sort of people who will take your money to help you cheat are also cheats and can't be trusted.

Can I recover my data?

I need advice,help. My two phones were stolen and I went to Mascom and Orange service providers at Rail Park Mall asking for any possibilities of infrmation retrival on my simcards because I have lost all my important information (contacts, business information, etc) and ask for information retrieval. I was told I need a court order to get the information even though I am their clients. But for replacing simcards i just did an affidavit.

Kindly advice the procedure to get my information because my life have come to stop with that information business as a consultant have stopped.

I'm sorry but I don't think I have any good news for you.

My understanding is that network service providers like Orange and Mascom record and store information such as your call history, your location and your billing history. They need all of those things to allow you to connect and make calls and then pay their bills and manage your airtime. However, my understanding is that they don't keep copies of the personal information on your SIM cards like your contacts. I suspect that your contacts might be lost.

If I'm wrong perhaps any experts can get in touch and correct me?

I think the issue of the court order relates to something different. If a phone is lost and you want to track it and you're not already using the built-in tracking tools that come with many phones, only the Police are entitled to do this or to instruct a service provider to do so. For understandable privacy reasons, network providers don't let anyone track a phone without a good legal reason to do so. Do we really want angry former partners, business rivals and crooks being able to track our phones?

I know it's too late for you, but the lesson is to either make backups of your contacts or to use online and Cloud-based solutions to synchronise your contacts and the other critical information on your phone. I'm an iPhone user and this comes as standard and free with any iPhone. My understanding is that Android phones offer the same and I suspect almost all manufacturers offer some sort of backup tool.

And just so you know, the issue of data privacy is going to get a lot stricter in 2022 now that the Data Protection Act will be fully in force. Make sure you join the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group to learn more.