Consumers get increased protection

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Consumers will soon get increased protection with the signing of the Consumer Protection Act. President Kgalema Motlanthe has signed the Act into law, marking the introduction of broader and more comprehensive consumer rights.
The Act, which was drawn up by the Department of Trade and Industry, will introduce general principles of consumer protection and serve as an over-arching governing statement on consumer protection matters, ITWeb reports.
Nomfundo Maseti, DTI acting deputy director-general, says the Act would protect consumers from exploitation and unfair practices by businesses and empower them to make informed purchasing decisions.
“It achieves this by introducing, among others, a system of product liability and improved redress. Producers, distributors or suppliers will be liable for any damages in the form of death, injury, loss, or damage to property and economic loss, to the consumer or third-party,” she says.
The DTI states that technological advancements and changes in the consumer landscape have led to the introduction of improved consumer protection measures. The Act will regulate all forms of electronic communication, including telephone, fax, SMS, wireless computer access, e-mail and any similar technologies or devices.
While the Act will only come into effect 18months from now – certain limited provisions will apply to fixed-term contracts entered into before the end of the 18-month period. According to Maseti, this time period is necessary to allow “business reasonable time to align their trading practices for the purposes of complying with the Act”.
Electronic communication
While certain clauses within the Act refer to provisions made in the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act – the Act provides consumers with further protection. It regulates all services, including consumer access to any electronic communication infrastructure, and covers any item of value given and accepted in exchange for goods or services, including electronic credit and electronic chips or similar objects.
The Act stipulates that if a consumer agreement between a supplier and a consumer is in writing, the supplier must provide the consumer with a free copy, or free electronic copy. Suppliers are not permitted to automatically renew contracts and are obligated to notify the consumer that the contract has ended and to offer a renewal.
According to the Act, if a document has to be signed or initialled for a transaction, that signing or initialling of it can be done through an advanced electronic signature, as defined in the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act. The supplier is also required to take “reasonable measures to prevent the use of a consumer’s electronic signature for any purpose other than the signing or initialling of the particulars”.
The Act replaced existing provisions from five Acts, including the Consumer Affairs Act, the Trade Practices Act, the Sales and Service Matters Act, Price Control Act and the Merchandise Marks Act.
The new Act will also promote consumer activism by providing for accreditation of consumer groups for lodging complaints on behalf of consumers. Possible financial support for activities, such as consumer advice, education, publications and research, will also be provided.
A National Consumer Commission will also be established within the next 12 months. This body will serve as an enforcement and investigative body on consumer protection issues. The commission will then implement the Act in another 18 months.