All consumers are being urged to be cautious when spending, and to be aware of their rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act.
The advice is coming from the Office of Public Counsel (OPC), a department within the Ministry of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce that is continuing its efforts to educate the public on the Act, which calls for compliance on the part of both consumers and suppliers.
Foremost among the advice is for persons to be aware that where goods are supplied to a consumer there is a guarantee or assurance that the goods are unused, or have not been previously used, or are not second hand. In addition, the goods must be of acceptable quality, that is, acceptable in appearance and finish; free from minor defects; safe; and durable.
Furthermore, there is a guarantee that such goods are reasonably fit for the specific purpose that the consumer informs the supplier/seller as the purpose for which the item is being purchased. Similarly, the goods should be suitable for any particular purpose which the supplier/seller represents to the consumer that they are fit for.
It is also important to purchase items from reputable sources. In the event that consumers are going to buy from someone who is not considered well-known in the business, then it is recommended that consumers find ways to ascertain the person’s true identity.
“Ask the supplier/seller for some form of valid identification and demand a receipt. Also, ensure what is written on the receipt is legible,” Acting Public Counsel, Roger Barker, said.
He also stressed that it was crucial to ascertain the legitimacy of the business, even if it requires paying a visit to the place from where the business operates.
With respect to purchasing online, consumers are urged to be cautious, especially in today’s world, where pseudonyms are a given and photos are not necessarily of the actual person or the business establishment.
“It will be difficult for the OPC to investigate complaints where the only information pertaining to the supplier’s identity, discloses a pseudonym and a cell phone number, which is usually blocked to the consumer, after the transaction has been completed. If there is no way by which the consumer can determine the true identity of the online supplier, then we urge you not to do business with such persons. When in doubt don’t, and it is better to be safe than sorry,” Mr. Barker contended.
In the case where an individual is purchasing a car of a second-hand nature, the OPC advises that a mechanic be taken along to examine the said car, as the pristine appearance of the body of the vehicle is secondary to the performance of the engine.
It should also be test driven by the prospective owner not only on flat roads, but up hills and other steep inclines and along varying terrain. Similarly, as with all other transactions, consumers should also ascertain the identity of the person they are doing business with, and demand a legible receipt.
However, an important distinction must be made between sales which are conducted in the course of business, which are covered under the Consumer Guarantees Act, and sales between individuals, which are classified as private sales and are not covered under the Act.
The former consist of goods or services obtained from a supplier or a person who supplies goods or services ordinarily used for personal domestic or household use or consumption, and not obtained for resupplying them in trade. The latter, on the other hand, consists of, for example, a one-off sale between two individuals which is not conducted in the course of trade.
He added: “In a situation where, for instance, an individual is selling his personal motor car to another individual, this would be considered a private sale because the seller is not in the business of selling cars, like a garage or business.”
A supplier of goods must also take action to ensure that facilities for the repair of, and supply of parts for goods are available for a reasonable period after the goods have been supplied to the consumer. This means that suppliers should not sell items without knowing of the availability of spare parts or having said spare parts in stock.
The Acting Public Counsel added that similar consideration must be given whenever engaging a supplier in the provision of services.
“There is a guarantee that where a service is supplied to a consumer that the service will be carried out by the supplier with reasonable care and skill, and that the service and any product resulting from the said service will be reasonably fit for any particular purpose the consumer makes known to the supplier before or at the time of entering into the contract for the supply of the service,” he stated.
Providing an example of behaviour which the department wants eliminated, Mr. Barker said: “We want to see suppliers desist from attempting to invalidate or vary any of the guarantees set out in the Consumer Guarantees Act and to note that it is illegal for a supplier to attempt to limit or modify, any liability attributed to them under the Act for the failure of goods or service to comply with any of those guarantees.
“Take for instance, a supplier displaying a sign at the drop-off desk or inserting terms on the back of a laundry ticket informing consumers that the laundry is only liable for up to 10 times the cost of cleaning items left in the care of the said laundry, which have been lost or damage. Section 50 of the Consumer Guarantees Act makes it an offence to attempt to do so, and such an offence comes with a fine of $2,500.00, or a term of six months’ imprisonment, or both.”
The Acting Public Counsel, while considering the issues that could arise during the holiday season, noted that any persons receiving items as gifts can exercise all of the rights and remedies against the supplier which would have been available to the person who initially purchased the gift on that individual’s behalf.
Mr. Barker stated emphatically: “The recipient of a gift is entitled to exercise any of the guarantees under the Act as if he was the person who had made the original purchase from that same supplier.”