Chapter 12 - Consumer Law
When you go into the market place and buy goods or services for cash or on credit, you are a consumer. When a seller agrees to sell goods or services and a consumer agrees to pay for these, they have entered into a contract. Consumer law is therefore all about contracts. Until recently, as a consumer in South Africa, the relationship between you (the consumer) and the company, was most often an unequal one – they drew up the contract which mostly benefited the company, and you either signed the agreement on their terms or you decided not to buy. The problem was that the next company also had a similar contract, so if you wanted the goods or service, you just had to agree to their terms.
There are many abusive practices against consumers in many industries, from overcharging, to poor quality, to overselling. And up until now if consumers wanted to challenge these practices they would have to pay a lot to do this.
The laws up until now which related to consumer issues were also old, and out of date and did not take account of concept of greater access to credit and a constitution based on human dignity and respect.
The laws have now been revised into two acts, the National Credit Act, and the Consumer Protection Act, which are based on the international principles of the United Nations 8 Consumer Rights. All consumers should know their rights in these two laws. As consumer counsellors or paralegals, you need to know the basics, and you need to know where to look for the detail because although the laws protect the consumer, there are still many abuses in the market place.
This chapter will provide a summary of the two laws and will also look at debt, and the consequences of not paying your debt – which is governed by the Magistrates’ Court Act, 1944.