Consumer: Cancelling a contract? Know your rights

By Georgina Crouth Time of article published Nov 10, 2018

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Consumer: STUCK in an unhappy relationship? 

Well, if it’s no longer convenient and it’s with a service provider, you don’t need to suffer until the contract has expired. But some contracts appear to be virtually impossible to shed, in violation of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

Telkom comes under a lot of flak for its poor service.

The call centre has been described as a waste of time; the walk-in outlets pointless to sort out billing issues; and the online cancellation process either ineffectual or impossible to navigate.

In theory, it should be a simple matter of logging on to Telkom’s website, entering “cancellation” into the search field, which pulls up a page listing option to cancel your service, whether for business or domestic services.

The page also boasts a link to: “It’s quicker online: Three easy steps to cancel a service” - but that simply renders a PDF that guides you through the process.

If you’ve had success in cancelling your service, you are one of the lucky ones, because, judging by the complaints I received, it’s nigh impossible.

Readers have mailed me in their hundreds to complain that they are still being debited months - some for more than a year - after concluding the cancellation process.

And yet in July, when I interviewed their new head of customer services, I reported Telkom was on the up, as a result of chief executive Sipho Maseko’s turnaround strategy.

In 2012, Attila Vitai, an experienced industry veteran, who had worked at Motorola and Vodafone in Europe, joined the company as head of customer service.

He drove massive improvements in the mobile segment and several successful campaigns, but after retiring, Serame Taukobong took over.

Taukobong also has extensive experience in mobile telecommunications, having spent 13 years at MTN, which included stints in Ghana and Uganda.

The new man in charge would focus on improving their service offering, saying “service is the new selling.

“We need to convince people that the new world of Telkom is worth staying in. Price is price, but when people are served well, you can serve them more by selling more. If you go to a restaurant and the service is bad, you’re not going to buy more. But if you get the service right, people will consider you”.

He also said there were big problems - one of the biggest was the lack of communication with customers.

He said they had seen a spike in complaints, so he put a dedicated team in charge to resolve the issues.

“We’re not just leaving it at the call centre. The front-end stores, IT, back-end divisions, repairs, etc: I am the dedicated executive in charge of all queries.”

The plan was to set up service hubs, give call centre better access and training to the system, so they could resolve issues, beef up the “social” teams on Twitter and Facebook, and stop playing “catch-up” with complaints. A task force was supposed to be put in place by the end of August.

Why then, have the complaints not stopped? Why does it seem so impossible to action a cancellation or get billing right?

I contacted Telkom last week to discuss this but there was no response. So much for improved communication.

Expert views:

So I spoke to CPA expert Trudie Broekmann, and Ouma Ramaru, the spokeswoman of the Consumer Goods and Service Ombudsman.

Ramaru said their office had received many complaints about Telkom’s cancellations and billing, but they have referred them to the National Consumer Commission because they do not deal with Telkom complaints at present.

“Obviously, Telkom is contravening the (CPA) act in this regard, because the act gives provision for cancellation on fixed-term contracts. If the consumer has followed all the correct processes to request cancellation, I do not see the reason why the supplier (is) dragging the process and keep(s) on debiting the customer.”

Broekmann clarified the CPA position: if you have a fixed-term contract with Telkom (for example, a two-year ADSL contract, and a landline), and the contract is not in the name of a legal entity, you have a right to cancel in terms of Section 14, which states: “the consumer may cancel that agreement upon the expiry of its fixed term, without penalty or charge or at any other time, by giving the supplier 20 business days’ notice in writing or other recorded manner and form.”

That means if, at any point in your contract with any supplier, you may cancel by giving 20 business days’ notice. “Consumers have this cancellation right, despite any provision in the fine print of the Telkom contract that may say you can’t cancel or imposes conditions or requirements for cancellation.”

Once the contract is cancelled, the consumer remains liable for any money owed to the supplier in terms of that agreement up to the date of cancellation; and the supplier may charge a reasonable cancellation penalty with respect to any goods supplied, services provided, or discounts granted, to the consumer, she explained.

“So if you got a handset that you were paying off over the two-year period, Telkom can charge you for the amount not yet paid off; and Telkom must credit the consumer with any amount that remains the property of the consumer as of the date of cancellation.”

If you are a business (turnover and asset value under R2million) or your contract is not for a fixed term, read the fine print in your contract and follow the conditions in that for cancellation.

Broekmann further says cancellation is a legal act that does not require any consent or acceptance from Telkom to be legally effective.

“As from the cancellation date, no further fees can be charged by Telkom, and if they do deduct money, for example by way of debit order, go to your bank with a copy of your cancellation notice and get the payment reversed.”

Remember to reverse those debit orders timeously - at least within 40 days.

Broekmann suggests mailing [email protected] (Telkom gave out this email after complaints about their system not allowing cancellations) or any other Telkom email address to someone in a managerial role at the company, and taking a print-out to the bank.

And if there’s a negative listing at the credit bureau, you can do the same by sending proof to the bureau, so they can remove the listing.

* Catch Georgie’s Consumer Corner every Thursday after 7pm on Open News on channel 120 on Open View. Streaming for a limited period on YouTube.

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