The essential purpose of the Consumer Protection Act, which is scheduled to come in to effect on one April 2011 is to:
- promote and advance the social and economic welfare of consumers.
- Improve access to and the quality of information available to consumers so that they are able to make informed choices in respect of their needs and wishes.
- Protect consumers from hazards to their well being and safety.
- Develop an effective means of redress for consumers.
- Promote and provide for consumer education.
- Facilitate the freedom of consumers to associate and form groups to advocate and promote their common interests.
- Promote consumer participation in decision making processes concerning the marketplace.
In order to be effective, a host of obligations have been placed on sellers, with the entrenchment of the following 8 consumer rights:
- Right of equality in the consumer market so that discriminatory marketing is only permissible to the extent that it is reasonable.
- Right to confidentiality and privacy, which restricts unwanted direct marketing by, for example, regulating the time of day when vendors can call consumers.
- Right to choose, which for example will require a consumer to authorise any repairs and maintenance services, before the vendor proceeds with the same.
- Right to disclosure and information being that the vendor must furnish the information regarding the product/ service in a plain and understandable language.
- Right to fair and responsible marketing, which marketing must not be misleading, fraudulent or deceptive.
- Right to honest dealing and fair agreements, which includes a presumption that the vendor is entitled to sell the goods i.e. has a valid liquor licence to sell alcohol.
- Right to fair, just and reasonable terms and conditions so as to protect consumers from unscrupulous vendors who would ordinarily take advantage of their ignorance.
- Right to fair value, good quality and safety of goods and services, which is provided for by the implied warranty that goods are safe and of good quality, and which is valid for a period of 6 months.
In order to enforce these Consumer Rights, the Act has made provision for redress by the following means:
- Alternative dispute resolution via mediation and/ or arbitration.
- Launching an application at a Consumer Court.
- Filing a complaint with the National Consumer Commission.
- Instituting action at any other Court with jurisdiction over the dispute.
The Act has not only codified the numerous common law principles of Consumer Law, but has also made their Application more practical.
Ian Mc Laren