Western Cape MEC for Economic Development and Tourism Alan Winde says the new Consumer Act means that consumers will actually be able to enjoy their rights. Picture: Cindy Waxa

In two days not only will it be disrespectful to ignore the rights of consumers, but illegal too, says Western Cape Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde.

The new Consumer Protection Act, which comes into effect from Friday, will “radically overhaul the manner and form in which business is conducted”.

“One of the important elements introduced by the act is the acknowledgement of the rights that all of us as consumers will now be able to enjoy,” Winde said this week.

“Previous legislation ignored these principles and for the first time we have statutory recognition of our right to confidentiality, information, disclosure, fairness, transparency, choice, safety and redress.

“From April 1 onwards, it will not only be disrespectful, but illegal, to ignore consumers’ rights,” said Winde.

The Consumer Protection Forum also said that South African consumers would now benefit from increased levels of protection, mainly because of regulatory measures introduced across different industries.

“Good progress to protect the consumer has been made on all fronts,” forum spokesman Peter Setou said. “Whether it is a dispute over contracts or complaints about the quality of products and services, consumers are getting better access to protection, information and advice than ever before.”

The new act brings with it the National Consumer Commission, a body launched this month to ensure consumer complaints are heeded.

Mamodupi Mohlala, who heads the commission, said it would herald a new era for consumer protection in South Africa.

“Today is a proud day for us as the National Consumer Commission, for we are at the door step of a major consumer revolution. This revolution is being ushered in by the promulgation and coming into operation of the Consumer Protection Act on April 1,” Mohlala said at the launch.

“This is an act that for the first time protects consumer rights in an uncompromising manner in the South African landscape.”

Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies said the effective empowerment of consumers would encourage enterprises to improve their products and services.

“The Consumer Commission will be a key pillar in implementing the consumer protection legislation.

The act requires that the commission plays an active and proactive role in strengthening consumer protection.

“The act makes provision for a comprehensive and overarching consumer law of general application that will regulate the interaction between businesses and consumers in the marketplace and provides more protection to consumers that was provided for in previous legislation,” Davies said at the launch.

Examples of how the act will affect consumers include:

- Returns and refunds

It’s all about you in the new act, especially when it comes to returning goods or asking for refunds. Consumers will now have up to six months to return faulty or unsafe goods. If the product fails again within the next three months, the supplier is again obliged to replace it or refund you.

- Deliveries

Ordering online? Goods will have to be delivered at an agreed date, time and place. If not, you will be free to accept or cancel the agreement. Companies are also obliged to deliver goods that match the sample or description of the product.

- SMS competitions

A small victory, but a victory nonetheless. As of March 31, companies will not be allowed to charge you an exorbitant R5 or R10 to enter an SMS or MMS competition, but will have to stick to the usual rates.

- Repairs

Companies will have to provide you with an estimate for the work - which you must approve - and cannot charge you more than that. If more work is required above and beyond the estimate, they first have to get the go-ahead from you.

- Privacy

Gone are the dreaded telemarketer calls and junk mail flyers. According to the new act, sales people cannot bombard you with calls and leaflets at certain times of the day and certain days of the year.

- Cooling-off period

According to this clause, you will have five business days to change your mind about that mid-life-crisis Harley or the seaside cottage you fell in love with. Notify the company in writing, and they will have 15 days to pay you back in full.

- Contracts

Thanks to the new act, automatic contract renewals will be no more. Companies will have to contact you in writing - between 40 and 80 business days before your contract expires.

- Voetstoots

From March 31, suppliers, particularly in the car industry, will have to let you know of all defects of your purchase and you have to agree to buying the product in that condition.

- Reservations

This one is still on you. Cancel a booking or reservation, and the supplier is entitled to charge you a “reasonable” cancellation fee. The “reasonableness” depends on how early you cancel and if the supplier can fill your spot. - The Mercury