There’s always one. One schoolkid – it’s usually a boy – who will direct what he thinks is a terribly clever, brazen question to a visiting speaker.
Last week was no exception. I was talking to a group of high school kids about the Consumer Protection Act at the invitation of their business studies teacher.
They were a lively bunch, flinging up their hands to ask mostly very intelligent questions. Then it came, delivered with a straight face: “So what happens if someone goes to an escort agency, and they aren’t happy with the service…?”
Well, he’d have redress, of course, as long as that service wasn’t illegal.
When the act becomes effective on April 1, it will give consumers the right to demand quality service and to full disclosure of the price of goods and services, and protection against false, misleading or deceptive representations.
Predictably, the section of the act which is shaking up the marketplace most is Section 56: “Implied warranty of quality”.
For decades, many retailers have adopted a “sorry for you” attitude when their customers return problem goods.
Either they refuse to accept that the goods were defective in any way, or they begrudgingly take the goods back and issue a credit note, valid for a short period of time.
In short, they’ve assumed total power to decide how to respond when problematic goods are returned.
Actually, common law has for many years protected consumers against defective goods – though few realise this – but it doesn’t give consumers the right to decide how they’d like to be compensated, leaving suppliers to decide what to do, if anything.
And manufacturer or store warranties limit recourse to repairs, because it’s obviously much cheaper for a company to repair an item than replace it or refund a customer’s money in full.
But the act has turned that status quo on its head, giving the consumer the power to decide on the remedy – and he or she is backed up by a Consumer Commission and Consumer Tribunal which have the power to impose hefty penalties on companies which fail to comply with the terms of the act.
If goods bought by consumers fail in some way, the consumers get to decide which of the three Rs – a refund, replacement or repair – they want.