The Consumer Protection Act is there to protect your rights and prevent you from being ripped off. Understand it so you can use it to your advantage.

Have you ever felt frustrated by bad workmanship, poor service delivery or defective goods? That’s when you need the CPA. It provides you with free enforcement of your rights as a consumer.

Your key rights under the act are to quality goods and services, accurately labelled (giving a product’s place of origin, contents, any expiry date etc), honestly advertised and fairly priced. For instance, if there are two prices displayed, the lower one applies. ‘But common sense must apply,’ says Clif Johnston, vice-chair of the SA National Consumer Union. ‘If the lower price is clearly a mistake and you try to exploit this, the authorities are likely to rule against you.’ All brochures and contracts must also be in plain language that’s easy to understand.

The National Consumer Commission and National Consumer Tribunal enforce the CPA, as well as accredited industry ombud schemes (the Motor Industry Ombud and Consumer Goods and Services Ombud), and provincial consumer authorities and consumer courts.


If you find you have bought something that is defective (broken or with a fault making it unfit for its purpose), you have a right to return it within six months, and to choose either a refund, a repair or a replacement. ‘You don’t have to accept a repair, as some retailers tell customers,’ says Johnston. What’s more, the retailer can’t insist that you produce the original packaging – only a proof of purchase – so keep your slips in a handy box or drawer. Always write your preferred remedy (refund, repair or replacement) on the return form, and ask for a copy.

If you opt for repairs, and after repair, the item breaks again, you may return it within three months, but this time you can’t get your money back – you have to accept a replacement if that’s what the supplier chooses. Only if the replacement also proves defective can you demand a refund. ‘This means it may be better to ask for a refund the first time the product fails,’ says Johnston.

But take note: The retailer has the right to send the product for a technical assessment when you return it, to rule out user abuse (it was dropped, for example). And the act protects you only if the purchase is defective, not if you simply change your mind about wanting it. Some retailers will allow you to return and exchange items or offer an in-store voucher for good consumer relations – but they have no legal obligation.


The only time you may legitimately return an impulse buy is if you buy through direct marketing – in response to being approached through an unsolicited phone call, email, SMS or by someone in a mall. You then have a five-day ‘cooling off’ period within which you can cancel the deal in writing and get a refund. The act doesn’t cover purchases from online suppliers like – different rules apply to those, such as a seven-day cooling-off period.

You have the right to ask for free written cost estimates from service providers, and you are not liable to pay for repairs or services done without your approval. If a service is not performed in a reasonable time and to a satisfactory level, using parts free of defects and of reasonable quality, the supplier is required to remedy any defects or refund you.

But take note: Never sign any contract or agreement you haven’t read and fully understood (have your own expert review it if necessary), or that has blank spaces (draw lines through them). Insist on a copy and keep it safely – perhaps in the same drawer as your slips.

Text Glynis Horning

If you are dissatisfied with how a supplier deals with your complaint, contact:

The South African National Consumer Union 
012 428 7122 

The Consumer Goods and Services Ombud 
0860 000 272 
Complaints can be submitted online.

The Motor Industry Ombud 
0861 164 672 
For a complaints form and for contact details of provincial Consumer Affairs offices

Namibia Consumer Protection Group for a complaint form

Consumers Protection Association

KNOW YOUR CONSUMER RIGHTS KNOW YOUR CONSUMER RIGHTS Reviewed by Michelle Pienaar on July 20, 2018 Rating: 5
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