The government remains committed to attending to as well as resolving issues of consumer protection.
Deputy Director-General of Consumer and Corporate Regulation at the Department of Trade Industry and Competition (the dtic), Dr Evelyn Masotja, said work is being done to close different gaps in the areas of consumer protection and consumer redress to ensure that there is a continuation of service delivery to the public.
She said issues of consumer protection are strategically important for the government and the public.
The Deputy Director-General said this while facilitating a Consumer Protection webinar hosted by the dtic in conjunction with its agencies, the Competition Commission (CompCom), National Consumer Commission (NCC) and National Credit Regulator (NCR).
The session was also hosted by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).
Masotja said sessions such as Friday’s webinar are imperative to inform consumers about their rights in terms of what the legislation provides, particularly the Consumer Protection Act, the National Credit Act and the Competition Act.
“This legislation has been amended from time to time to ensure that we provide protection, secure rights of the public and that everyone can participate meaningfully in the economy.”
Meanwhile, Acting Commissioner at the National Consumer Commission, Thezi Mabuza, noted four areas of the Consumer Protection Act that prohibit people from participating or promoting schemes that include pyramid schemes.
She said the telling signs of a pyramid scheme include a promise of high returns of above 10% of the repo rate in a short space of time. These require consumers to recruit more members in order to earn a profit, and payouts are made from new recruits and not from profits, where one advances in the hierarchy levels through the recruitment of others.
She also noted that these schemes are often not registered with the Financial Service Conduct Authority as a financial service.
Price gauging complaints
The Deputy Commissioner of the Competition Commission, Hardin Ratshisusu, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented various challenges, with some companies taking advantage of consumers.
“Because of the pandemic, in about four months we received cases that we would normally receive in six years.
“About 1700 cases of alleged price gouging were received just during the pandemic. To address such, Minister [Ebrahim] Patel acted swiftly and published consumer and customer regulations which allows the Commission to zoom into the essential products that we needed to look at during the pandemic,” said Ratshisusu.
While encouraging consumers to lodge complaints with the Commission, Ratshisusu addressed the process and steps that consumers can take if they want to lodge an unfair price or colluding complaint with the Commission.
He stressed the importance of studying the Competition Act which will make the process easier for consumers.
“If you suspect a firm is engaged in price gouging please contact the Competition Commission with the following information: the name and location of the store/vendor where you purchased the item and their address, details of the product, including, but not limited to, the product type, brand, size, and price, receipts, invoices, quotations or pictures showing the price. Send a brief WhatsApp or a text to 084 743 0000 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org,” he said.
The Chief Executive Officer of the National Credit Regulator, Nomsa Motshegare, said there were a number of options for consumers if they were unable to fulfil their financial obligations, especially in paying their loans during this pandemic.
Consumers who are struggling to repay their debts can approach a debt counsellor who is registered and regulated by the NCR.
“Debt counselling is one option that consumers can take advantage of and it does work. On average per month about a billion gets to be distributed by payment distribution agents to credit providers,” said Motshegare.
All regulators on the panel agreed that education and awareness campaigns remain key to ensure consumers are aware of their rights and obligations.
The National Consumer Commission can be reached on 0800 014 880. – SAnews.gov.za