An essential part of being a savvy consumer is not accepting things at face value; getting into the habit of asking critical questions.

Many DStv installers claim to be MultiChoice-accredited when they are not; if you don’t check – by going on to the MultiChoice website – you could end up getting a shoddy installation, an inflated price, or both.

And that slick cosmetics salesman manning the kiosk in the shopping mall will tell you that you’re getting a bargain, but if you checked online, you’d probably find you could get the same stuff far cheaper elsewhere.

Ditto car parts – don’t assume that dealerships representing the parts for the same brand of vehicle work off the same price lists. They don’t. It pays to shop around.

Take Jenny Swanson’s case. An Outsurance client, when recent heavy winds blew part of a fascia board off the roof of her home and smashed it into her lounge window, she thought she’d take advantage of the insurer’s free “[email protected]” service.

Clients are told they get two free call-outs a year for an electrician, plumber, locksmith and the like, plus one hour’s free labour. All they have to pay for is replacement parts.

“When Glasfit arrived I was charged R400 for a piece of glass that was 475mm x 1 085mm. I thought this was expensive, so I called a competitor company and they quoted me R130,” she said.

Then she called Glasfit’s branches in both Pietermaritzburg and Umgeni Road: both quoted her R90 for that piece of glass.

“So why then did the same company charge me R400 through an insurance claim?” she asked. “Or is Outsurance escalating the price of the parts to cover the cost of the call-out, so that the consumer is actually paying the full cost and not getting a free service at all?”

When Swanson queried this with Outsurance, she was told that price of glass varied from area to area.

“So I escalated the issue to an Outsurance manager, who told me that she had phoned Glasfit pretending to be a member of the public looking to buy that sized glass, and she was also quoted R400, so she doesn’t know where I got my prices from!”

Then, in an apparent turnaround Swanson was contacted by Outsurance and told they were unable to investigate her claim to have been quoted just R90, as the woman concerned was not at work, but as a customer, they would refund her R310.

All very odd, especially as Swanson had got that R90 quote from not one Glasfit branch, but two.

Intrigued, I called the two Glasfit branches in question myself, asking for the cost of the exact size of glass which the company had replaced in Swanson’s home.

Swanson had told me such exterior glass was a standard thickness, so I did not specify thickness, and was not asked to do so.

One branch quoted me R95 and the other R94.

I then took up the case with Outsurance, asking how charging Swanson R400 for that pane of glass, initially, was justified.

Head of client relations, Natasha Kawulesar, said the company had met one of the glass supplier’s directors “to understand what occurred here and why the different rates were quoted”.

It emerged that different rates were being charged to insured clients “depending on the time of the call-out and if it was regarded as an after-hours call-out”, she said.

“We do not agree with these rates and we are in discussion with the supplier on the way forward.”

Well, Swanson’s glass replacement job was not done after hours, and even if it had been, that should have affected the cost of labour – supposedly a free service as part of the insurance policy – and not the cost of the glass.

What lies behind that R300 price discrepancy remains the subject of speculation, but I think it’s fair to say that Swanson’s interrogation of the price not only saved her money, but exposed a situation which has no doubt been doing other policyholders an injustice, too.