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CPA 101 – Consumer Complaints Procedure – Part 1

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Please note that this pertains to South African Legislation.

Much has been written and said about the CPA (Consumer Protection Act) that was introduced to South Africa in 2008. Many have seen it in a positive light (and I am included in these), but many have seen it in a negative light. Regardless of how you choose to see it, the very real and harsh reality of the matter is that it will affect you and have an impact on your life, one way or another.

Let’s face it, we have all, at one time or another had a bad shopping experience and have felt frustrated and abused or even bullied by a supplier – I know I have, but now you can actually do something about it.

Let’s go through the process together.

Firstly there are three different types of solutions to your consumer complaint. They are:-
Class Actions;
Damages; and
Discriminations (remember though that discrimination complaints can be brought to, both the Equality Court or the National Consumer Commission, who will, in turn, refer it to the Equality Court).

Now, let’s go through the process one step at a time.

The first thing that you need to do if you have a complaint about a product or service is to approach the service provider. Obviously, if you can resolve the problem at this level, between the two of you, this would be first prize. Remember to document everything as this will obviously assist.

There are, of course, some suppliers who will not be willing to play their part in the dispute negotiation and so at this point, you would need to refer the matter to the DRA (Dispute Resolution Agent), who will attempt to resolve the matter in a fair and impartial manner, through an ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) process. Remember, the more information that you give them, particularly documented, the easier it will be for them to prove or disprove the situation.

From there, so-called “minor matters” will go to a provincial office, where the dispute will be forwarded to the Provincial Consumer Courts.

At this point, it will become the responsibility of the Commissioner or the Tribunal to resolve the matter.

At this level, each complaint will be thoroughly investigated by the National Consumer Commission, who will, in turn, refer cases to the Consumer Tribunal.

The buck stops with the Consumer Tribunal who have the authority to decide whether the Consumer Act has been contravened or not. They can and will, order changes in the practice of “how things happen” in the supplier’s business or they could also make the supplier pay a fine or even implement a process in the supplier’s business to ensure that things happen differently next time.

As you can see, this is quite an onerous, complex process – so don’t be thinking that it will take all of five minutes.

The bottom line of course is that finally we, as consumers have a voice that we can make heard. Conversely, if we are service providers who don’t do things properly, our clients too, have a voice that can now be heard.

As usual, though it is a process that has to be followed correctly, so again, please understand that it will not happen overnight and if you are a “knee jerk” type of individual like I am, you will have to wait patiently while the wheels of justice turn.

You also have to understand that the CPA is not something that is unique to South Africa, it has been introduced in several countries across the globe, so it’s not the S A Government out to get you.

Next time we will continue with the process.

Part 2

Part 3