How the new consumer law protects you

Consumers can shop online with more confidence when the new Consumer Protection Act comes into effect next month. Photo: Leon Nicholas

Consumers can shop online with more confidence when the new Consumer Protection Act comes into effect next month. Photo: Leon Nicholas

Published Feb 3, 2011


You know the scene: your waiter brings you your meal at a restaurant, but it’s only half the size of the advertised picture.

Or your toaster dies an unexpected, flaming death on day 101 of your 100-day-guarantee. Or a telemarketer calls you up halfway through lunch and you find yourself signing up for an insurance policy between mouthfuls.

Yes, it’s a dangerous world for consumers. But that’s all about to change.

On March 31, the new Consumer Protection Act (CPA) comes into play. The Star looks at what it means for you.


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.

Trudie Broekmann of the law firm Webber Wentzel explains that you will have a choice between the supplier repairing or replacing these, or refunding you in full.

If the product fails again within the next three months, the supplier is once again obliged to replace it or refund you.

But remember, this applies only to the general wear and tear of your appliances, not gross negligence on your part.

The supplier may charge you a small amount to repackage the product.


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 – it’s your choice.

Companies are also obliged to deliver goods that match the sample or description of the product. You have the right to examine your purchases before accepting them, and reject them if you’re not happy.

If you didn’t get a chance to examine the product and are unhappy with it, it can be returned at the supplier’s expense.


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 network rates.


Sending your laptop in for repairs? Getting that leaky roof fixed?

As of March 31, companies have to provide you with an estimate for the work – which you must approve – and cannot charge you more than that estimate.

If more work is required above and beyond the estimate, they first have to get the go-ahead from you.

Companies also can’t charge you for preparing their quote, unless you’ve agreed to that.


Gone are the dreaded telemarketer calls and junk mail flyers. At least in theory.

According to the new act, salespeople cannot bombard you with calls and leaflets at certain times of the day and certain days of the year.

You can also put your name on a blocking registry to one-up the telemarketers before they even begin to dial. How exactly this will be enforced, however, is still anybody’s guess.


Impulse buyers, this one’s for you.

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’ll have 15 days to pay you back in full. If goods have already been delivered to you, you’ll have to return them before you get your money back.

Note that this applies only where you bought in response to direct marketing, which is when things are advertised to you directly, in person, in the mail, or electronically.


Ever been billed for that gym or cellphone contract you thought had expired?

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. They have to give you the option to continue your contract, change its terms or cancel it.

Note that the contract will continue on a month-to-month basis until you make your choice.

You will also be able to cancel contracts at any time. No more waiting for the full 24 months to end. If you’re unhappy, give the company 20 days’ notice – in writing – and you’re home free.

And while you won’t have to pay the full value of the contract, keep in mind that you still have to pay anything you owe the company up to the date of cancellation.

The company might also charge you a cancellation fee, possibly no more than 10 percent of the amounts still owed.


Voetstoots – especially in the car industry – means buying it as you see it. Don’t go complaining to the seller when your 1962 skedonk no longer gets you from A to B. What you see is what you get.

But not anymore.

According to Broekmann, “The CPA specifically identifies the consumer’s rights to good-quality products, in good working order, free of any substantial defects, and fit for their purpose.”

From March 31, suppliers will have to let you know of all defects – both obvious and hidden – of your purchase, and you have to agree to buying the product in that condition.


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 now-empty spot.

If, however, the booking is cancelled because of the death or hospitalisation of the person who made the booking, no cancellation fee can be charged.

If you’re feeling hard done by as a consumer, contact the Department of Trade and Industry’s National Consumer Commission, previously the Office of Consumer Protection, at 0861 843 384, fax 012 394 2558, e-mail [email protected] or write to: The DTI, National Consumer Commission, Consumer Complaints, Private Bag X84, Pretoria 0001

Complaint forms can be downloaded at forms.htm

Sources: Emma Donovan from consumer complaints blog; Trudie Broekmann at Webber Wentzel Attorneys. - The Star

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