By NDUMISO KHUMALO, Attorney, Rhodes University Law Clinic
This month’s article considers in more detail some of the dispute-resolution forums for consumer complaints briefly introduced in the first article on this topic a few weeks ago.
- Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO)
The function of the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud is to resolve complaints made by consumers against suppliers where the supplier has not been prepared to assist the consumer. In such circumstances, the consumer can lodge a complaint with the ombud. The services offered by the ombud are free of charge.
How to lodge a complaint:
- A consumer must first have referred the matter to the supplier (the organisation against which the complaint is being laid). A list of supplier participants is available on the CGSO website: http://www.cgso.org.za/particpant-list/.
- If the supplier does not resolve the matter, the consumer may call the national number (0860 000 272) or the Eastern Cape office number (0860 007 255) and lodge a complaint.
- A consumer may also complete and submit an online complaint form, which is available on the website.
The ombud will capture the complaint, refer it officially to the supplier, and assist in resolving the complaint.
2. Provincial Consumer Affairs Office
The government has set up Provincial Consumer Affairs offices to provide consumers with protection, information and advice if the supplier has not been prepared to assist the consumer. If you have a problem with a contract or a dispute relating to service or product quality, and the supplier has turned you away, you can approach a Provincial Consumer Affairs Office for assistance. The Eastern Cape office is in Bhisho: 045 808 4000.
3. Motor Industry Ombud
One of the more common and financially significant situations where consumers may need assistance is in connection with motor vehicle purchases and servicing. The Motor Industry Ombud is an organisation that provides consumers with assistance in resolving complaints, specifically regarding the motor industry. Its website is www.miosa.co.za.
4. Advertising Regulatory Board
Section 29 of the CPA requires the marketing of goods or services to be done in a manner that is not reasonably likely to imply a false or misleading representation concerning those goods.
The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) administers the widely-accredited Code of Advertising Practice which regulates the content of South African advertising. Any person or entity believing an advert is false, misleading or harmful in any way may lodge a complaint with the ARB.
A complaint may be lodged by completing and submitting a form online. This form is available on the Board’s website: http://arb.org.za/complaints.html#consumer-complaint-form
5. National Consumer Commission
The National Consumer Commission may receive and investigate complaints concerning prohibited conduct or offences. The commission may investigate and recall defective goods. There are instances where the commission may refer complaints to an ADR agent and provincial consumer protection authority.
Once the dispute has been heard by the commission and the supplier is found to be in contravention of the CPA, the commission may issue a public administrative compliance notice to the supplier.
Failure to comply with the above notice may result in the Commission referring the matter to the National Consumer Tribunal (see below) for the imposition of an administrative fine or to the National Prosecuting Authority for prosecution as an offence.
6. The National Consumer Tribunal
The National Consumer Tribunal is the country’s most important national consumer-specific dispute-resolution body. It functions like a court.
The tribunal may deal with the following matters:
- To hear and review cases referred by the Commission and impose administrative penalties;
- To hear applications for agreements or resolutions to be made a consent order;
- To hear referrals from the Commission relating to prohibited conduct.
The Tribunal may declare conduct to be prohibited, and issue an interdict, or confirm consent orders. Further, the Tribunal may impose administrative fines for non-compliance relating to prohibited or required conduct of up to 10% of a supplier’s annual turnover during the preceding financial year, or R1 000 000, whichever is greater.
Failure to comply with an order of the Tribunal constitutes an offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to ten years, or both.
7. Ordinary Courts
The ordinary courts may only assist a consumer if all the consumer’s other remedies have been exhausted. Criminal courts may deal with criminal offences created by the Act, and civil courts may deal with claims for financial damages, which fall outside the powers of the consumer courts or the National Consumer Tribunal.