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Be abreast of your right as a consumer to avoid abuse

| Legislation

Companies that routinely put profit before consumer rights can be extremely creative in justifying their decisions.

Many insist on repairing faulty items, when the Consumer Protection Act gives consumers the right to refund or replacement within six months of purchase, or they blame the consumer for the problem, says the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud's office complaints manager, Bonita Hughes.

"They allege cellphones have water damage, that fridges and microwaves malfunctioned due to cockroach infestation or that the leather couches started to peel because the wrong cleaning products were used."

Two women brought these cases to me:

Lay-by-taking the law into their own hands

Nosiphiwe Ngcungama of Margate on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast made a R1538 lay-by purchase at Clothing Junction's Port Shepstone branch at the end of November, making an initial R538 payment and agreeing to pay off the remainder by the end of January.

With lay-by purchases, the goods remain in the store until payment is made in full. But the consumer act allows a consumer to cancel at any time for a refund of what they have paid, minus a cancellation fee of just 1% of the purchase price - in this case, R15.38.

But when Ngcungama wanted to do exactly that last week, her request was denied.

So I contacted the head office on her behalf. The response was heartening - Ngcungama got her refund and all branches will be e-mailed regarding lay-by procedures.

Your right to a detailed invoice

Laura Coetzer of Durban had blood tests done at a FlowPath branch, paid cash and then asked for an invoice so she could submit it to her medical aid, Discovery Health. But she was told she could only have a receipt, revealing the amount paid, but no details of the service provided, which is in contravention of the consumer act.

FlowPath's Trevor Doorasamy told me it was all a misunderstanding - the branches do not have a "comprehensive pathology billing system" and thus all medical aid claims and cash invoices were generated by the head office and provided on request, he said, but the customer was never told this.

Traders - other than informal ones - must provide proof of purchase, containing their registered business name and VAT registration, address, date of purchase, price per item, quantity of goods, total without VAT and total with VAT.

Make sure you are not on the losing end of cents "rounding"

Barbara Worthington bought R127.96 worth of medication at Ackermans Pharmacy in Primrose, and noticed she was charged R128 on her debit card.

I put it to pharmacy owner Johan van Wyk that retailers who choose to persist with prices which end in 90-something cents must always round to the cash-paying customer's benefit, if they do not have the coins to provide the exact change.

So R127.96 should become R127.90 not R128 because the customer should never be made to pay more than the advertised price.

Van Wyk said he did not know that the company that programmed his till system was rounding up so he instructed that it fix this mistake.

To lodge a complaint against a company for failing to honour the provisions of the CPA, contact the Consumer Goods & Services Ombud:go to

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