Although the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO) has no power to sanction companies that transgress the law, it will be working much closer with the National Consumer Commission which can force suppliers to co-operate.
The role of the CGSO is one of mediation and dispute resolution.
In her annual report for 2017/18 the acting ombud, Magauta Mphahlele, warned non-cooperative suppliers to consider the reputational and sustainability threat to their businesses following a judgment by the National Consumer Tribunal where a supplier was slapped with an administrative fine of R100 000 for non-compliance, which included the refusal to cooperate with the motor industry ombudsman.
During the year under review, the top five business sectors that attracted the most complaints were telecommunications (32%), furniture retail (17%), clothing retail (10%), appliance manufacturers/retailers (7%) and wholesale (6%), which is roughly the same proportion that rolls in to Off My Trolley.
So it’s no surprise. Of the telecoms companies, Telkom gets top spot, then Vodacom, MTN and Cell C.
But back to the CGSO. The ombud thanked the companies that signed up, making it possible for consumers to escalate complaints to the CGSO when they can’t resolve them at store level.
“We still need those suppliers trading within the goods-and-services industry to join the CGSO scheme so that they comply with Section 82(2) of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) as well as to provide redress to their customers,” Ms Mphahlele said.
“The CGSO is sometimes forced to close a file because the supplier cannot be located. As a result, consumers should deal with businesses which display the decal showing that the supplier subscribes to the CGSO code, as this will give them the assurance that the supplier has committed to complying with the Consumer Protection Act and address complaints in a speedy and fair manner,” she said.
For the reporting period, the CGSO call centre handled 22 889 calls and logged 5 593 complaints as compared to 5 595 in the previous year: 45% filed their complaints through the CGSO website, 32% were referred by the National Consumer Commission, 19% filed by email and the rest were telephonic, walk-in, letter, fax and through the Provincial Consumer Affairs Offices.
The office closed 5 553 complaints, as compared to 5 974 in the previous year. “We have substantially reduced previous backlogs and reduced our turnaround time to finalise complaints from 61 to 47 days,” Ms Mphahlele said.
The top-10 complaints were about cellphones, electrical appliances, furniture, timeshare, computers, building material, clothing and footwear. Consumers complained mainly about the cancellation of agreements, misleading marketing, poor service, defective goods and bad treatment.
“Suppliers must make sure that they are well structured and resourced to deliver on their marketing and product promises and should ensure that they are able to deal with it to the consumer’s satisfaction in line with the CPA.
“Of the 5 593 complaints that are within our jurisdiction, 64% were resolved fully or partially in favour of the consumer, with 53% being fully upheld, 7% being partially upheld and 4% assistance provided.
“Fully upheld means the consumer received the full remedy requested and partial means the consumer received part of the remedy requested or positive assistance that led to the resolution of an administrative issue.
“While we consider the 64% positive outcome good for the consumer, we are still concerned that in 17% of cases the complaint could not be resolved because of lack of co-operation from the supplier,” said Ms Mphahlele.
Consumers who weren’t able to get redress were advised to contact the NCC as required by the CPA.
One case that the ombud dealt with in the year under review was about a packet of crisps that allegedly contained rat faeces.
The complainant said it had affected her physically and emotionally, but she rejected the supplier’s offer of a R75 voucher and demanded compensation of R30 000.
The supplier could find no evidence of contamination in the factory, but the pest-control operator noticed a small round opening on the packet of chips which indicated rodent activity.
However, the inspectors said that the damage had likely happened after sale, probably in the complainant’s home.
The CGSO said Section 61 of the CPA enabled consumers to obtain redress either from the producer, importer, distributer or retailer where they had been injured, or become ill because of a defect in a product. The consumer does not have to prove fault, but they still have to show that it was the product that was unsafe and that there was a causal link between the harmful product and the damages suffered.
The CGSO concluded that the contamination had not happened at the factory and the supplier’s offer was fair.
The complainant could seek recourse through the courts if they wanted to pursue the claim, the ombud advised.
Visit www.cgso.org.za or call the sharecall helpline on 0860 000 272 to lodge a complaint or to find out more.