Consumer Goods and Services Ombud – what you need to know…

Just after plugging in your brand new kettle, you realise that the element of the kettle does not heat up at all. For obvious reasons, you had no way of checking this feature in-store before making the purchase. You try to return it to the store for a full refund or replacement and you are told by the store manager that there is no refund policy. This doesn’t sound right to you, however your attempts to resolve this in-store are unsuccessful. 

This legal insight focuses on the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO) as a platform that may be the answer to your consumer law enforcement frustrations either as an individual or as a business. 

The CGSO was established with the view to guide the consumer goods and services industry on the expected minimum industry standards and to assist the industry with resolving disputes that may arise between consumers and suppliers as contemplated in the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (the CPA). The goods and services industry covers all entities that are involved in the supply chain that provides, markets or supplies goods and services to consumers, subject to certain exclusions that include, but are not limited to, transactions not covered by the CPA as well as the automotive industry.

The CGSO is a CPA-accredited industry ombud, meaning that it provides for an adequately situated and equipped alternative dispute resolution scheme as contemplated in the CPA. It also considers disputes and complaints that concern alleged contraventions of either the CPA or the CGSO Code. Complaints and disputes are lodged with the CGSO free of charge. Such complaints can be lodged by either natural persons or juristic persons that qualify as consumers under the CPA. Small businesses should therefore take advantage of it as alternative dispute resolution platform. 

Lodging a complaint with the CGSO appears to be a straightforward process that can be completed either online through the CGSO website or by submitting a CGSO complaint form either by hand, e-mail, mail, fax, or any other format that is acceptable to the CGSO. However, prior to approaching the CGSO, you are required to attempt to resolve the matter with the trader concerned. Once the complaint has been received, it must be assessed by the CGSO in order to establish whether it falls within the CGSO’s jurisdiction.

A matter will not fall within the jurisdiction of the CGSO if the complainant is a juristic person with an asset value or turnover equal to, or more than, R2 million. The CGSO will also not consider complaints or disputes that occurred before 1 April 2011, or more than three years prior to the date on which the complaint was lodged. Where a complaint is vexatious or frivolous, or is under consideration by a legal practitioner or another dispute resolution body with jurisdiction, the CGSO will also not consider the matter.

A complaint should be resolved within 60 business days from the date on which it is received by the CGSO.  Furthermore, an ‘up-to-date status report’ must be made available to the complainant at regular intervals or upon request.

The CGSO may, therefore, be a worthwhile dispute resolution forum to consider in times of consumer-related troubles.