The Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA) provides for extensive protection of consumer rights. In preceding legislation we have seen provisions that also relate to consumer rights – these include for example the National Credit Act 38 of 2005 (NCA) and the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002 (ECT Act).
The big difference however is that the consumer protection provisions of the NCA and ECT Act only apply in very specific instances – for example the NCA only applies to credit transactions and the ECT Act only applies to electronic transactions. The CPA on the other hand is different: the default position is that the CPA will apply (allowing consumers to rely on the CPA rights), unless an applicable exception exists. These exceptions are limited.
Generally speaking consumers have the following rights in terms of the CPA:
1. Right to equality
This right provides that consumers cannot be discriminated against on one of the discrimination grounds listed in the Constitution.
2. Right to privacy
The Constitution makes provision for the right to privacy in section 14 of the Constitution. The CPA gives effect to this right by providing for some privacy protection when it comes to direct marketing.
3. Right to choose
The CPA provision of the consumer’s right to choose extends to the consumer’s right to return goods.
4. Right to disclosure of information
The CPA aims to assist consumers by forcing suppliers to provide consumers with adequate information in order for them to make informed decisions.
5. Right to fair and responsible marketing
The CPA places a lot of emphasize on marketing activities. Suppliers must be fair in their marketing material and may not mislead consumers.
6. Right to fair and honest dealing
In terms of the CPA, a consumer can expected to be treated fairly and honestly.
7. Right to fair, just and reasonable terms and conditions
Similar to the NCA, the CPA provides for a list of terms that
8. Right to fair value, good quality and safety
Consumers are entitled to receive goods or services that are of good quality, in good working order and free of any defects.
Consumer rights will not mean much if they cannot be enforced. The CPA therefore makes provision for various forums through which the consumer can address alleged breach of the CPA – without necessarily going to court. Not all of these forums are operative as yet, however the National Consumer Commissioner has been appointed and the National Consumer Commission have received complaints from unsatisfied consumers as from 1 April 2011.
Be sure that you know your consumers’ rights. And be sure that you know when an opportunistic consumer is using the CPA to try to enforce rights that he or she does not have in terms of the CPA.