The new Consumer Protection Act (CPA) came into effect on 1 April 2011. Consumers should welcome many aspects of the new legislation and in a three-part series of articles I will explain the new Act, with input from advocate JK Berlowitz.
The Consumer Protection Act has made huge changes to the law of sale and many of its provisions favour the consumer, whereas previously the supplier enjoyed an unfair advantage. As a business owner, taking heed of how the consumer benefits is of vital importance to the decisions you make with regards to your own dealings with customers.
The Act seeks to place consumers on equal bargaining terms with suppliers.
A major shift in favour of consumers is in terms of contracts. Previously, if a person signed a contract he was bound by his signature on the contract, unless he could show that the agreement was made contrary to public policy, which happened in very rare instances.
Today, the act allows the consumer, even if he has signed a contract, to raise the point that there are clauses in the contract, which are unfair and unreasonable to him based on the fact that he does not have the same bargaining power as the supplier.
A case in point
As an example, Afrox Healthcare Limited was taken to court by a patient, who was admitted to hospital and subsequently suffered permanent disability as a result of the alleged negligence of a nurse.
In court, Afrox Healthcare Limited relied on a clause in the admission form, which the patient signed, that they were absolved from liability or any loss or damage of any nature whatever the cause. According to evidence, the patient did not read the admission form nor had it been explained to him and the court found in favour of Afrox Healthcare Limited.
Today, the Consumer Protection Act makes such a clause unenforceable, even if the patient signed the admission form, and Afrox Healthcare Limited would have to pay.
The Act covers several examples of clauses which in the past would have favoured the supplier but today work in favour of the consumer.
Changing sales tactics
The well-known ‘voetstoots’ clause, in terms of which previously a car dealer could sell a second-hand motor vehicle as it stands, will now require the dealer to point out what defects are in the car and advise the consumer whether the car has been reconditioned.
The laws relating to loyalty programmes and direct marketing have been tightened substantially.
The laws relating to latent defects and repairs to, for example, motor vehicles and towing malpractices are examples of how the consumer will benefit from the Act.
However, the negative aspects make it clear that at present there are far more questions than answers around the new Act.
The Act also does not make it clear as to the regulatory body at which the consumer must lodge an initial complaint.
The Act gives the consumer the right to go to the Consumer Court or an ombudsman in the case of a particular industry.
A complaint can also be ventilated by dispute resolution but how to advise the consumer which regulatory body to go to in order to serve his best interests, remains to be seen.
At present there are many aspects of the Act which have not been clarified by the regulations relating to the understanding of these clauses.
The Act lays down guidelines for dealing with unfair, unreasonable and unjust contract terms and gives guidelines as to the interpretation of these unfair contracts.
For example, a contract would be unfair if:
- It is excessively one-sided in favour of any person other than the consumer or other person to whom goods or services are to be supplied; or
- The terms of the transaction or agreement are so adverse to the consumer as to be inequitable.
This would lead to more backlogs at court attempting to define which contracts are unfair, unreasonable and unjust. Certainly, only the courts will be able to interpret these contracts because the Consumer Tribunal and Commissioner will never have the expertise to perform this role.
Another issue is that the Act seeks to introduce the concept of simple, understandable language in contracts and notices such as exclusions of liability in parking lots and public swimming pools, which where possible must incorporate user-friendly visual representations.
This is laudable, but the Act read with the regulations does not define how and in what language these notices or documents are to be drawn. Although no particular language is prescribed, English appears to be first preference.
Written agreements must comply with a section in the Act which prescribes that such agreements should be written in ordinary plain language to be understood by the consumer.
The Act and the regulations, however, remain unclear as to whether, for instance, an illiterate consumer would have to have the terms and their binding affect upon him explained
Finally, certain sections of the Act require the keeping of cumbersome records and other statutory regulations which will once again generate additional charges.
Once again, this raises the question of who will pay.
An Introduction To COID Registration And The Letter Of Good Standing
Company Partners is a leading COID Registration Service Provider in South Africa. They also assist Companies to obtain a Letter of Good Standing from COIDA.
What is COIDA?
The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (Act 130 of 1993) replaced the “Workmen’s Compensation Act” (Act No. 30 of 1941), and was amended in 1997.
The Compensation Fund provides compensation for occupational injuries or diseases sustained or contracted by employees in the course and scope of their employment, or their dependents for death resulting from such injuries or disease, and to pay reasonable medical expenses incurred.
Who must register with COID?
According to prescription, anyone who employs one or more part- or full time workers must register with the Compensation Fund and pay annual assessment fees. The Compensation Fund is a trust fund that is controlled by the Compensation Commissioner and employer contributes to the Compensation Fund. The Commissioner is appointed to administer the Fund and approve claims lodge by employees or their dependants.
An employer must register with COID within seven days after the day on which he employs his first employee. An employer must register with the Commissioner by submitting Form W.As.2 with the particulars required therein to the Commissioner.
During COID registration copies of the following documentation should be included:
- the registration certificate from the Register of Companies if they are a company or closed corporation;
- or their ID document, if they are sole owners of the business.
What are assessment fees?
The annual assessment fee is of an employer is based on their employee’s earnings and the risks associated with the type of work or profession. Before 31 March each year, all employers (including contractors) must submit a statement (return) of earnings reflecting amount paid to all their workers from the beginning of March to the end of February.
Assessment tariffs, reviewed annually, are based on the risks related to a particular type of work.
Payment of assessments
- Employers must pay within 30 days of receiving the notice of assessment;
- Employers must apply in writing to settle assessments in installments (not exceeding 12 months);
- 20% of the outstanding balance due is required upfront before instalment arrangements can be applied for;
- Should the instalment fall overdue, the full amount becomes due and payable immediately.
Failure to comply may result in:
- Penalty can be imposed for late submission of ROE (Sect 83(2) – 10%);
- Estimations will be done if no returns (ROE) are submitted (Sect 83(6)(a);
- Penalty on non-payment of assessments (Sect 87(1) – 10%);
- Interest on late payment of assessment (prevailing prime rate);
- Penalty for late reporting of accidents
- A penalty is imposed where an employee meets an accident / death and employer is not registered with the Compensation Fund (not exceeding full compensation payable to the employee (Sect 87(2)(a))
- An employer who fails to comply with a provision of this section shall be guilty of an offence – Sect 81(3)
Contractors and sub-contractors:
- Contractors and sub-contractors must register with the Compensation Fund and pay assessments;
- Failure to comply with the COID Act by the sub-contractor will make the mandatory or main contractor to be responsible for any claims from the sub-contractor’s employees (thus the need for a letter of good standing);
- The contractor may recover any such payments directly from the sub-contractor.
Letter of Good Standing:
The Letter of Good Standing is a certificate issued by the Compensation Fund to verify that a business actually exists, has paid all its statutory dues, has met all filing requirements and, therefore, is authorised to operate.
Conditions when applying for a letter of good standing:
- Employer must be registered with the Fund as per section 80 of the COID Act,
- Employer must have submitted all returns of earnings as per section 82 0f the COID Act,
- Employer must be fully assessed as per section 83 of the COID Act,
- Employer must have paid/ settled all outstanding debt as per section 86 of the COID Act.
- Employers that have entered into an instalment arrangement will only be issued with a letter of good standing on a month‐to‐month basis.
Related: Register A Company In South Africa
What happens if an employee is injured?
The amount of compensation paid to you, depends on how much you were earning when you got injured or diagnosed. If you’ve stopped working by the time a disease is diagnosed, the compensation will be worked out according to what you would’ve been earning.
Types of compensation:
Medical costs: All your medical expenses will be paid for up to 2 years, from the date of the accident or the diagnosis of the disease. You are free to choose a medical service provider you want to consult with. All medical accounts and reports should be submitted to the Commissioner.
Temporary disability: When you’re unable to work or can’t do all your work because of an injury or disease.
All medical expenses are also paid if the medical accounts are submitted to the Commissioner.
You can claim compensation for temporary disability for 1 year. This can be extended to 2 years, after which the Commissioner may decide that the condition is permanent and grant compensation on the basis of permanent disability.
Permanent disability: A permanent disability is an injury or illness that you will never recover from. The seriousness of the disability will determine whether you’ll never be able to work again or whether you’ll find work more difficult. If the disability is more than 30% disability, you will get paid a monthly pension. The size of the pension depends on what your wages were and on the seriousness of the disability. If the disability is 30% or less, you’ll get paid a lump sum. The lump sum payment is a once-off payment.
Death benefits: Burial expenses will be paid and the spouse of the deceased and children under the age of 18 (including illegitimate, adopted and step-children) are entitled to compensation. If a family member that earns money to support the family (breadwinner) is killed by an occupational injury or disease, dependants can claim from the fund.
Established in 2006, Company Partners guarantees that the services they offer meet the standards of the best in the industry. Over 30 full-time Consultants offer services and standards of the highest quality.
How To Stay On The Right Side Of The Law With A Marijuana Business
The verdict is in: It’s not (yet) legal to commercially grow cannabis, but there are multiple business opportunities for home growers that are on the right side of the law.
“The use, possession and cultivation of cannabis outside of a private space, or by, or around, under-age persons, still remains illegal,” says Paul-Michael Keichel, Partner at Schindlers Attorneys. “The caveat to this appears, however, to be that you may carry concealed cannabis in public, if the intention is to only consume it in a private space, away from under-age or non-consenting individuals.”
“What we are seeing is that most of our clients’ focus has been on the cultivation and commercialisation of cannabis itself. What is seemingly being overlooked are the secondary industries that will emerge or benefit from the legalisation of cannabis,” explains Maurice Crespi, Partner at Schindlers Attorneys.
“Take our M&R (medical and recreational) Cannabis Department as an example. Whilst not planned, it has emerged as a key department at Schindlers Attorneys. If cannabis legalisation presents an opportunity for attorneys, it begs the question as to what industry would not be presented with some form of opportunity as a result of its legalisation.
“Transport, courier services, injection moulding, advertising, fashion, accountants, medical, textiles and so on, are now all in a position to exploit the legalisation of cannabis to their benefit. I’m yet to think of an industry that will not be in a position to benefit from the legalisation of cannabis. Even Coca-Cola has found a way,” says Maurice.
Grey areas yet to be resolved
“The question that has been left open, of course, is how and where does one get the cannabis seeds to grow the plants that one is now permitted to cultivate at home, or in private? Must these be shared, or can they be sourced or sold commercially?” says Paul-Michael.
“Until this answer is clear (we’re researching presently), it’s better to err on the side of caution. However, now that the major part of the fight is lost for them, I would be very surprised if Parliament doesn’t start appreciating the massive potential for increased tax revenue that would flow from a formalised and regulated cannabis industry.
“It serves almost everyone’s interests for them to entertain this option, especially because studies show that full legalisation decreases associated harms more than decriminalisation. Consider quality control, de-stigmatisation, elimination of the black market, beneficiation, and the list goes on,” explains Paul-Michael.
“That stated, SAHPRA (www.sahpra.org.za) is entertaining licence applications by growers and distributors for medicinal use of cannabis. The requirements are very tight but, for those able to comply and get licences, the commercial opportunity is almost unquantifiable,” says Paul-Michael.
Innovative Business Solutions And Compliance
Compliance with certification is a strong way to demonstrate that you are managing your business proactively.
As a business owner, you are probably aware of where your business could improve. Sometimes a business owner would like to improve their business but is not sure how to begin. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to develop an environment which will foster innovation and create key steps to improve your business while simultaneously trying to comply with all of the necessary legalities.
It is important for an entrepreneur to assess their situation first. Most business owners will ask the question why? Why can’t everyone will follow the same steps to success. Every business is different and unique, therefore, before you start making changes within your business, it is a good idea to make sure you have a full understanding of the factors affecting your business success and whether you are complying with necessary legalities.
Compliance may actually improve performance by giving your business a competitive edge. Legal compliance can assist you with improving your customer relations, enhancing your reputation and most importantly avoiding the cost of legal proceedings.
There’s this saying, ‘What gets measured gets improved’ explains Charles Gaudet, founder and CEO of Predictable Profits, a consulting firm that offers advanced marketing techniques to entrepreneurs who are passionate about expanding their small businesses.
Related: Compliance For Entrepreneurs
Here are a few strategies that you can use to make your business more profitable in the future.
Innovative Marketing solutions
For every business owner, marketing is an important tool to improve their businesses. You may think that you are missing an opportunity if you don’t jump right attracting customers with some type of marketing message.
However, as quoted by John Rampton ‘’one of the best things you can do to achieve growth is to slow down and spend time studying the trends.” What does this mean? While rushing into marketing your product you tend to forget certain details, and once it is out in the public its difficult to forget or to undo. Therefore, its very important to research the market and consumer trends before launching anything.
This becomes very important when you consider the potential risk to your business for the infringement of another product, which is confusingly similar to your product. You also do not wish to be guilty of using a similar brand name, slogan or logo as one of your competitors. Therefore, before you set out your personalised solutions when designing ads and directing messages to consumers ensure you are not infringing on anyone else’s rights as this will likely lead to expensive legal costs for your business.
Compliance Breeds Confidence
It is important to remember that clients are concerned whether suppliers are properly compliant. Compliance with certification is a strong way to demonstrate that you are managing your business proactively and that the money a customer will spend i.t.o. buying your goods or services, is in safe hands. Conversely a failure in compliance can, as well as exposing you to the risk of regulatory sanctions, severely damage your business’ credibility.
For example, in the financial services industry there is an increasing requirement to demonstrate strong security to both external auditors and prospective customers.
With regulation that you feel is of no value, determine how to satisfy the requirements with the minimum effort necessary. Do, however, double check that you are not missing out on a benefit that may be rewarding for your business.
In conclusion, it is important to note when improving your business one always need to act in accordance with the correct laws and procedures. Therefore, if a company is embracing the difficult task of being compliant, I recommend using this as a competitive weapon to improve your business. It just might end up making you and your team better which is usually rewarded with more business.