In Legal Updates

Compiled by the Office of the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO)

When consumers feel the need to lodge a complaint, it is best that retailers and suppliers become familiar with the formal dispute process in order to resolve the complaint appropriately and as quickly as possible. Advocate Neville Melville of the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO), provides a few pointers.

“Instead of going first to the National Consumer Commission (NCC), which focuses on investigating prohibited behaviour by suppliers and retailers, consumers [should] first lodge a complaint with an industry Ombudsman,” explains Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman (CGSO), Advocate Neville Melville. “That means finding the ombudsman for the relevant industry – such as consumer goods and services; banking; motor; credit or insurance.”

Ombud schemes focus on resolving disputes between suppliers and customers, while the NCC focuses on investigating prohibited conduct and compliance with the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

“We first refer complaints to the supplier involved to enable them to settle, however, if there is an ongoing dispute, we may ask an independent expert to inspect the goods and report back to us on the merits of the complaint,” says Melville. “Or we may call in a professional mediator and get the parties around the table to work out a settlement they can both live with.”

In mediations, the agreement is then recorded in the form of a consent order. This can be made into an order of the court or of the National Consumer Tribunal (NCT), which can then be enforced through official channels.

“Parties mostly reach a settlement, whether the claim is met fully or another solution is found, such as repairing or refunding a defective item,” says Melville. “Sometimes the complainant comes to understand they do not have a valid claim.”

“If no agreement is reached by the parties, neither an ombudsman nor the National Consumer Commission (NCC) can actually order the payment of damages or is equipped to assess the quantum of damages,” says Melville. “The parties can however agree to try mediation through an ombudsman first.”

He adds that the vast majority of cases received are settled and need not go further. “Only those that are not settled or we believe are without merit tend to go further.”

If no agreement is reached by the parties and a party wishes to rely upon a CPA right in court they must first get a certificate from the NCT declaring the supplier in contravention of the CPA.

“Court should really be your last resort,” says Meville. “In cases where nominal compensation is sought, an ombudsman can help resolve the complaint, but if the compensation for current and future losses is millions of rand, it may be better suited to a court.

For retailer registrations for CGSO membership, call 0860 000272 (CGSO ShareCall helpline)

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