LIFESTYLE NEWS - The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) may be there to protect you when you're buying goods and services, but it's not a free ticket to complain. Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman, Advocate Neville Meville says consumers need to understand they also have responsibilities before laying a complaint against a retailer, manufacturer or distributor.
1. Understand marketing material and contracts
Under the CPA, suppliers are obliged to ensure that every notice, document or visual representation of the product must be in plain language. "If you don't understand something, you're entitled to ask for an explanation before signing, especially if it is a big ticket item such as a house, car or furniture," says Melville. "Always read the fine print before purchasing to save yourself hassle and unnecessary costs - if the contract is in plain language, and you sign, you will be held liable."
2. Prices must be accurate
It may happen that the price displayed on the item or shelf does not match the price you're charged at the till. By law, the supplier is bound by the lowest price displayed, unless it is an obvious error or it has been tampered with. "It's the consumer's responsibility to first check with a shelf packer if you are unsure of the price and to check the till slip to ensure you've not been overcharged," adds Melville. "You are within your rights to ask for the lower price."
3. Watch out for exclusions
Before signing a contract, be on the alert for warning clauses and read them to find out which risks you will not be covered for before you enter into the agreement. This is because suppliers must bring any risk of injury or death, adverse term or exclusion of liability to the attention of the consumer before they enter into the transaction. "Especially look out for highlighted terms in contracts and make sure you understand what's not covered," says Melville.
4. Follow instructions
While a supplier is responsible for any harm caused as a result of inadequate instructions or warnings about hazards associated with the use of a product, you may have no claim for damages if you haven't read the instructions or warnings. "Always read all the packaging and information booklets before using a new product - whether it's a washing machine or toy," Melville explains.
5. Beware of on rolling over contracts
It's easy to simply forget about renewing your television subscription, security services or cellphone contract, but it's important to read all correspondence sent from a supplier and give notice in time if you do not want the contract to continue. "Suppliers must inform you that a fixed term agreement is about to end and will roll over onto a month-by-month basis with or without new terms," says Melville. "Make sure you aren't been charged extra for services or additions you don't really need."
6. Beware of grey goods
You may be willing to pay less for reconditioned or "grey" goods (imported without the authority of the manufacturer), but then need to accept the increased risk of defects and that there's no manufacturer's warranty cover.
7. Read the rules of competitions
It's a real win if you bag a prize in a promotional competition, but you could be disappointed if you haven't read the rules beforehand and you end up not qualifying. Request the rules from the organiser to ensure that you are eligible to enter the contest and that you are happy with the conditions, such as collecting a prize in a distant location, having to listen to a two hour promotional talk on your weekend away win or having your face appearing in the company's media campaign.
8. Check the sales record or till slip details
Under the CPA, suppliers must provide a sales record or till slip containing a comprehensive list of details. "Check the correctness of these details and keep it in a safe place - such as a file," says Melville. "The sales record is your copy of the agreement and proof of purchase." You will also need it if you wish to return goods, get a refund or ask for defective goods to be repaired.
9. Make sure goods are fit for purpose
Consumers are entitled to receive goods that are fit for the purpose for which they are generally intended. "If, however, a consumer requires something for a particular purpose," advises Melville. "They should ask the sales person if the item is suitable for that purpose and record the answer. The consumer has the right to expect that the goods will be suitable for the specific purpose that the consumer mentioned."
10. Ask for identification
All marketing, delivery, repairs or installation employees must wear a badge or provide identification under the CPA, so don't get duped into buying something from a conman. "Be cautious and insist callers or people coming to your premises show you their official badge or identification card," adds Melville. "It's also a good idea to take note of the person's name for record keeping purposes and if you need to lay a complaint or compliment later on."