Consumers have been urged to be cautious when spending, and to be aware of their rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act, a Government watchdog said today.
The Office of Public Counsel (OPC), a department of the Ministry of Commerce, gave the advice as part of its mission to education the public on the Act, which is to ensure compliance on the part of both consumers and suppliers.
The OPC has advised buyers to expect that goods are supplied on a guarantee or assurance that the goods are unused, or have not been previously used, or are not second-hand. According to the law, the goods must be of acceptable quality, that is, acceptable in appearance and finish; free from minor defects; safe; and durable.
There is also a guarantee that the goods are reasonably fit for the specific purpose for which the item is being bought. The goods must be suitable for any particular purpose which the supplier/seller represents to the consumer that they are fit for.
Consumers have been told that it is important to buy items from “reputable sources”, the OPC said. In the event that consumers are going to buy from someone who is not considered well-known in the business, then the onus is on consumers to ascertain the seller’s true identity, according to the government agency.
Acting Public Counsel Roger Barker said: “Ask the supplier/seller for some form of valid identification and demand a receipt. Also, ensure what is written on the receipt is legible.”
He also stressed that it was crucial for consumers to ascertain the legitimacy of the business, even if it requires visiting the business place itself.
The Public Counsel also urged online buyers to be cautious, especially where pseudonyms are a given and photos are not necessarily of the actual person or the business establishment.
And when buying a second-hand car, the buyer should take a mechanic to examine the vehicle, ascertain the seller’s identity, and demand a legible receipt, the OPC said.
Barker said: “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.”
Warning that the “pristine appearance” of a vehicle’s body is “secondary to the performance of the engine”, the OPC urged the would-be owner to also test drive it on flat roads, up hills and steep inclines and along varying terrain.
And with all other transactions, consumers should also ascertain the identity of the person they are doing business with, and demand a legible receipt, the government agency urged.
But the OPC makes “an important distinction” between sales done 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 law governs 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.
But a one-off sale between two individuals which is “not conducted in the course of trade” is outside the jurisdiction of the Consumer Guarantees Act, said the Public Counsel.
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.”
The Act requires the supplier of goods to ensure that repair facilities and parts are available for a reasonable period after the goods have been supplied to the consumer. Suppliers should not sell items without knowing of the availability of spare parts or having said spare parts in stock, under the law.
Acting Public Counsel Barker added that similar consideration must be given whenever engaging a supplier in the provision of services.
He said: “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.”
As Barker spelt out the penalties under the legislation, he 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 ten 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.”
And the Act even covers Christmas gifts, the Public Counsel suggested.
The recipient of gifts can exercise all of the rights and remedies against the supplier which would have been available to the original buyer of the gift, he said.
Barker stated: “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.” (BGIS)