Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

THAT “seven-day return policy” you are so kindly informed of when you return to the shop the item that broke on day one has no basis in law, according to Peter-John Veldhuizen of Gillan and Veldhuizen Incorporated, a Cape Town-based law firm that specialises in litigation. 

Veldhuizen says although many of us are aware of the Consumer Protection Act, not many of us are familiar with the rights the Act provides in terms of defective goods and return policies.

He says section 56 of the Act deals with what is known as an “implied warranty of quality”, which essentially provides that, within six months after the delivery of any goods to a consumer, the goods may be returned to the supplier, without penalty. Section 56 goes on to say that this is at the supplier’s risk and expense if the goods fail to satisfy the requirements and standards set out in section 55 of the Act (see below), and the supplier must, no matter what its policy is, repair or replace the returned goods, or pay a refund. 

Simply put, you as a consumer, are entitled to return any defective goods within six months of purchase and, more importantly, you can elect whether you would like the item to be replaced or repaired, to receive a refund. “Many retailers attempt to dictate their return policy to consumers, often not allowing returns after a certain period, or only offering a voucher in return. This is totally against and in breach of the Act,” Veldhuizen says.

Section 55 of the Act stipulates that every consumer has the right to receive goods that are safe and of good quality. The Act specifies that the goods must be:
• Suitable for the purpose for which they are intended;
• Of good quality, in good working order and free of defects; and
• Durable and usable for a reasonable period of time.

You have the right to refer any breach to the National Consumer Commission (NCC), which, if it finds the supplier of the goods accountable, will issue a compliance notice to the supplier. 

“This can have far-reaching effects, as the NCC can issue a fine of up to 10% of turnover or R1 million, whichever is smaller. Clearly, this can have a big impact on a business should the consumer take it to task. 

“Retailers need to educate their staff on the rights of the consumer, the effects of a disgruntled consumer and what damage that can do to your brand. If boardrooms and head offices don’t realise that the consumer has legal rights way beyond their engineered policies, and if they are not fully au fait with the legislation, they are placing themselves at huge risk,” Veldhuizen says.