PRESS RELEASE    2.7.2019

CONSUMERS WELCOME HIGH COURT RULING IN FAVOUR OF CREDIT REGULATOR

The South African National Consumer Union (SANCU) welcomes the Johannesburg High Court ruling in favour of the National Credit Regulator which now prevents banks from transferring funds deposited into consumers' accounts to settle debts on credit agreements without the consumers' authorisation.  SANCU also applauds the Credit Regulator for bringing this application to the High Court.

While this ruling only applies to credit agreements subject to the National Credit Act, SANCU believes banks have a duty of care to their customers not to take any unilateral action with regard to the money entrusted to them without the customers' explicit authorisation.  That used to be the case decades ago when banks took their responsibility to consumers more seriously.  Nowadays with widespread banking fraud, for which the consumer is somehow held to have been negligent most of the time, consumers are beginning to wonder all over again whether their money would be safer if kept under the mattress.  The recent fraudulent debit order epidemic could have been avoided had banks listened to consumers when SANCU raised the issue with them some 9 years ago.  At the time SANCU recommended a pre-approval process with the consumer's own bank before a debit order could be accepted.  Only now, after huge losses to both banks and consumers, is such a process slowly being put into place.  The consequent loss of trust in the banking system may well be the reason why so many consumers are migrating to the newer, cheaper banks which have simpler, less vulnerable systems.

Issued by Dr Clif Johnston  : Vice Chairman

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PRESS RELEASE
11.3.2019

CELL C USERS WILL CONTINUE TO INCUR OUT-OF-BUNDLE DATA CHARGES BY DEFAULT UNDER NEW REGULATIONS

The South African National Consumer Union (SANCU) advises all Cell C users to set a zero cap on their Spend Control service if they wish to avoid out-of-bundle charges when their data bundles expire.  ICASA’s new End-User Service and Subscriber Charter regulations initially stated that charges may not be made for out-of-bundle data unless the customer has explicitly opted-in for such charges, which is how Vodacom, MTN and Telkom have currently implemented the charter according to tests carried out by MyBroadband and reported by them on 3 March. 

However, a last-minute change to the Charter also permits out-of-bundle charges to be made to customers who have not opted in for such charges, as long as the data is provided under the same terms and conditions as for the in-bundle data (which presumably means at the same tariff).  This is the option currently implemented by Cell C, as quoted by their spokesperson in the MyBroadband article.  While this avoids the "bill shock" that used to occur in networks with out-of-bundle tariffs much higher than the in-bundle rates, the extra charges can still come as a surprise to consumers who may be unaware that their data has run out.  SANCU would prefer Cell C to have taken the more consumer-centric approach of the other networks by disabling out-of-bundle charges by default, but fortunately it is not difficult to select this option.  Cell C customers who are not sure how to do this should contact the Cell C helpline at 135 from a Cell C phone or 083 135 from any other phone.


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PRESS RELEASE
6.3.2019

SUGAR TAX – A BURDEN ON EVERYONE EXCEPT THE STATE

Recent reports of imminent job losses in the beverage industry as a result of the sugar tax provide further evidence that this measure was ill-conceived and badly implemented.  SANCU observed in November that the only impact of this tax at consumer level has been to increase the prices of all soft drinks across the board and/or to reduce the sizes of the bottles or cans in which they are sold.  SANCU showed then that apart from a few isolated cases soon after the tax was introduced, there had been no consistent price reduction for sugar-free soft drinks, even within the same brand.  In some cases the low-sugar or sugar-free version was actually more expensive.  This trend has continued, and in many outlets the low-sugar and sugar-free variants are simply not stocked any longer.

Dr Clif Johnston Vice-Chairman of the South African National Consumer Union stated "The sugar tax has clearly failed to create a preference for low-sugar beverages among consumers.  All it has achieved is a depressed market and increased tax revenue.  If some of the tax collected had been ring-fenced for consumer education and market monitoring things might have been different.  Industry responds to increased costs, such as a sugar tax, in ways best judged to retain profitability and this does not necessarily accord with the intention of the tax." 

SANCU believes that the introduction of taxes like the sugar tax needs to be considered far more carefully in future, and steps put in place to ensure that the intended outcome is achieved.  If it is not, then the tax should be scrapped."

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PRESS RELEASE

23.1.2019

Consumers laud Competition Tribunal's R20 million administrative penalty served on Computicket

The South African National Consumer Union (SANCU) is very pleased with the Competition Tribunal's finding that Computicket (Pty) Ltd abused its dominance in the marketplace.  SANCU is particularly happy that Computicket has been ordered to pay the very significant penalty of R20 million, though the total cost to consumers of this anti-competitive behaviour in the form of inflated ticket prices is likely to be much greater than this amount.  SANCU congratulates the Competition Commission and Tribunal on sending out a strong signal that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

The message to business is that anti-competitive behaviour will eventually lead to significant consequences, even if it takes a long time to get there (the case dates back to 2008).  Consumers can hope to see a more competitive environment, not only in the area of ticket sales, but also in a wider context as the message filters through to other businesses.

Businesses should be careful not to factor in such penalties as the cost of doing business.  In the USA that practice led to anti-competitive behaviour being classified as a criminal offence.  If the problem persists, SANCU sees no reason why the same cannot be applied locally, with compulsory jail time for repeat offenders, as the hidden cost to consumers of such behaviour can be huge.

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PRESS RELEASE  15.11.2018

SUGAR TAX – A PROFITABLE FAILURE FOR THE STATE

A recent statement that Treasury collected more sugar tax revenue than expected is further evidence that this tax has completely failed in its stated aim of promoting health by reducing the consumption of sugary drinks.  The only impact of this tax at consumer level has been to increase the prices of all soft drinks across the board and/or to reduce the quantities of the containers in which they are sold.  A quick survey by SANCU showed that apart from a few isolated cases soon after the tax was introduced, there is no consistent price reduction for sugar-free soft drinks, even from the same brand.  In some cases the low-sugar or sugar-free version is actually more expensive.  

Dr Clif Johnston Vice-Chairman of the South African National Consumer Union stated "Consumers can hardly be expected to favour low-sugar or sugar-free soft drinks under these conditions, which is why the sugar tax revenue is higher than expected.  The sugar tax has clearly failed in its stated aim, although Treasury is no doubt happy with the extra income." 

The Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, strongly supported the introduction of the sugar tax in order to combat obesity.  SANCU wonders what he feels about this outcome?

If best before dates confuse you, please listen to the podcast below.  David Watson - Chairman of Food Advisory Consumer Service explains "Best Before Dates"

http://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/316501/best-before-date-has-nothing-to-do-with-food-safety-expert



19 June 2018

SANCU WARNS AGAINST DEBT RELIEF SCAMS

The South African National Consumer Union is warning all consumers NOT to give their personal details, especially their bank account numbers to anybody over the phone. 

SANCU has once again been receiving complaints from consumers who have been ripped off by unscrupulous organisations offering easy debt relief.  These organisations request bank account details up front, and once they get this information they can freeze your bank account and take money out at will.  You cannot pay your accounts, as you are listed as being under debit review – even though there is no court order and no agreement in place with the debt administrator.  Once you are listed as being under debt review, you CANNOT open any other accounts or buy a house or car

Should you be contacted telephonically by a Debt Administrator or Counsellor offering to “lighten” your load by cutting down your monthly payments:  

*  ask to be sent full information outlining what the procedure is going to entail;  

*  check yourself if the organization is registered with the National Credit Regulator (ncr.org.za or 0860 627 627); 

*   do NOT give out any personal information, especially bank details, before receiving and carefully studying the documentation – if you don't understand it, ask a friend or someone independent; and 

*  do not give in to pressure tactics to agree to anything, either verbally or in writing – legitimate organisations will not pressure you to sign up, so take time to think carefully before committing to anything.


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Ombudsman for Short Term Insurance (OSTI)

Annual Report for 2017

OSTI did sterling work for consumers during 2017, among the figures feature in the report SANCU would like to highlight the following :

9 097 formal complaints were received
5 079 preliminary complaints received
9 962 complaints were closed
Amount recovered for consumers 87 101 354
Average turnaround time is 131 days for complaints
77 660 calls were received by the call centre.

Well done to the Ombudsman and her office.




 

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29 March 2018

PRESS RELEASE

CONSUMERS WARNED OF MAJOR PRICE HIKES DUE TO VAT INCREASE

The South African National Consumer Union (SANCU) is warning consumers to be on the lookout for opportunistic price hikes once the new VAT rate comes into effect on 1 April.  On the face of it, a 1% increase is not all that much: for example, an item costing R19,99 before the increase should rise to R20,19, but will it? "More likely it will increase to at least R20,99, or perhaps even to R24,99 as suppliers exploit the new VAT rate as an opportunity to raise prices" says Marie van der Merwe, acting Chair of SANCU,  "Consumers should be aware of these strategies and resist them as far as possible, by voting with their feet when they encounter excessive price increases".  If sufficient consumers resist, prices will return to a more reasonable level in time, even if only temporarily.  Eventually though, prices will inevitably rise towards the next multiple of 5 or 10 Rands, minus 1 cent.  "That's unfortunately the way the market works," says Marie, "and once again the poor are affected more than the affluent."  For example, a price rise from R99.99 to just below the next multiple of 5 at R104.99 amounts to a 5% increase, while the same increase from R19,99 to R24,99 is 25%.

SANCU advises consumers to shop around when they find excessive price increases, and to support those suppliers that keep their prices down. These will be easy to spot.  Where the new VAT is applied fairly there should be very few prices that end in .99c

Ends……



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20 March 2018

PRESS RELEASE 

NETWORK DIALING CODES TO CHANGE

The South African National Consumer Union is alerting all consumers that the old dialling codes to access voicemail will fall away on 24 March and will be replaced by a standard number across all networks: 132.  Marie van der Merwe the Chairman of SANCU would like to remind all consumers that should they not be able to access their voicemail after that date they should try dialling this new number.  Most cellphones have a shortcut way of accessing voicemail, for example by pressing and holding "1."  When the user does this, the phone dials out a preset number, say 100 or 111, to access the voicemail service.  This preset number used to be different for different networks.  A regulation issued in 2016 standardised a number of service numbers across all networks, but the old numbers were permitted to remain in use for a period of two years.  That period expires on 24 March.

It is a simple process to update the preset number on a cellphone, but this process is not the same on all phones.  Consumers who find they can no longer access their voicemail by the usual means, should contact the customer care number of their network.  This number has also been standardised across all networks to 135.  There they should be able to obtain assistance on how to set their phone to access the new voicemail number.  Alternatively, their nearest cellphone shop should be able to do this for them.  In the meantime they can continue to access their voicemail by making a call to the new number: 132.

The standardised numbers now in use across all networks are as follows:

Voicemail retrieval: 132
Voicemail deposit: 134
Customer care/service: 135
Prepaid recharge and balance enquiry: 136
Account enquiries: 137

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WORLD CONSUMER RIGHTS DAY 15 MARCH 2018

SA CONSUMERS WANT FAIRER E-COMMERCE

In celebrating Consumer Rights Day on 15 March the South African National Consumer Union (SANCU) is calling for fairer e-commerce in the country. 

Firstly consumers need access to affordable and secure internet services.  For a very large number of South Africans mobile is the only secure way of accessing the internet and its cost remains too high for the majority, in spite of recent decreases.  Free Wi-Fi services and internet cafes are unsuitable for e-commerce transactions owing to the risk of hacking.  "Some e-commerce services, like banks, are beginning to offer cost-free mobile access to their services.  Perhaps this is the way of the future for local e-commerce," says Marie van der Merwe, Acting Chair of SANCU. 

Secondly, consumers need greater protection against online scams and fraud.  SANCU receives reports on an almost daily basis of fraudulent transactions that rob consumers of their money.  It is easy for financial institutions to warn consumers to be cautious when making online transactions, but scammers and hackers make use of ever more sophisticated techniques to lure even knowledgeable consumers into their clutches.  And sometimes money is taken from bank accounts without any negligence by the consumer, debit orders in particular. "Banks really need to take more responsibility when such things happen, instead of accusing consumers of negligence," says Marie, "After all, they have been promoting online services to all their customers without having the security to trace and reverse many fraudulent transactions (especially inter-bank transfers).  If banks were required by law to refund consumers in all such cases, they would quickly develop more secure systems."

Thirdly, "Online suppliers in South Africa need to improve their standard of service, particularly when it comes to non-delivery, returns and refunds," says Marie." Reputable online suppliers overseas do not debit the customer until the item has been despatched.  In South Africa, the reverse takes place; money must be paid upfront before the order is accepted."  Should stock not be available after accepting the order, it can take two weeks or more for a refund to be processed.  Suppliers usually blame banks for such delays, but if overseas suppliers can ensure refunds are received in South Africa within a day or two, it must be possible for local suppliers to do likewise.

SANCU believes that the reluctance of South Africans to make use of e-commerce relative to other countries is largely due to issues like these which need to be addressed urgently.

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Media Release

For Immediate Release                                                                                                      March 2018

Know your rights - Do not to pay any upfront fees when applying for loans

The National Credit Regulator (NCR) has embarked on a consumer rights month campaign in support of the World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) which is on the 15th March annually. The international theme for 2018 is ‘making digital marketplaces fairer’, says Obed Tongoane, Deputy CEO at the NCR. 

In terms of the National Credit Act (NCA) as amended, all credit providers must register with the NCR before granting credit to consumers. It is rather sad that some credit providers or sometimes ‘fake’ credit providers who operate online cheat unsuspecting consumers of their hard earned money. This normally happens to consumers who are ‘blacklisted’ and cannot get credit from banks and other formal institutions. ‘Blacklisted’ is a term used by the general public to describe an adverse listing, judgment listing or an administration order listing on the consumer’s credit report at the credit bureau. In simple terms, it is a negative listing that will adversely affect a consumer when they apply for credit. 

Online scammers take advantage of such consumers (blacklisted) because they know that they have nowhere else to go. A fake credit provider is one that is not registered with the NCR, uses a legitimate credit provider’s registration number and the listed business premises on its website does not exist.

In line with the 2018 international theme, consumers should not make any upfront payment to credit providers when applying for a loan. It is unlawful for credit providers to charge consumers any upfront fees. An upfront fee is a payment that some credit providers charge consumers before granting them loans. “If you have paid an upfront fee to a fake credit provider, you need to open a criminal case with the South African Police Service”, says Tongoane. Consumers should be weary of this as most fake credit providers who operate online charge consumers this fee. Consumers will not be able to get their money back as most of these credit providers are fake and therefore, do not exist in the real world.

 “In terms of debt counselling, consumers should take note that debt counselling is not a savings mechanism as it is made out to be by some debt counsellors who promise consumers savings of up to 60% of their monthly instalments, says Tongoane. He says that it was never in the spirit of the NCA to make debt counselling a savings mechanism. It is rather a debt relief measure for over-indebted consumers so that they are able to pay all their credit providers with their current income and also be able to afford their living expenses such as food, transport, school fees etc. And most importantly, consumers will not lose their assets as long as they continue paying whilst under debt counselling.

Consumers who receive calls from debt counsellors and debt counselling companies promising them savings on their monthly instalments, breaks from their monthly instalments or anything that is too good to be true, should know that it probably is, adds Tongoane. Consumers should avoid giving those debt counsellors or their call centre agents their identity numbers and their banking details telephonically. “Remember, you cannot be placed under debt counselling without your consent and without an identity number”, says Tongoane. So, it will be difficult for debt counsellors to place consumers who do not want to be placed under debt counselling without their identity numbers and consent.

Consumers who feel that they have been placed under debt counselling without their consent should contact the National Credit Regulator for assistance. Remember your telephonic consent is after all a legitimate consent. Therefore, do not agree telephonically if you are not sure.

Ends

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5.3.2018

PRESS RELEASE

CONSEQUENCES OF LISTERIOSIS SHOULD BE DIRE, SAYS SANCU

The South African National Consumer Union (SANCU) is relieved that the source of the Listeriosis outbreak has finally been uncovered, and congratulates the Department of Health and the other institutions involved on their success in this difficult detective work.  SANCU also appreciates the firm and decisive remedial actions announced by the Department of Trade and Industry in conjunction with the National Consumer Commission (NCC).

The fact that the Listeria organism was still present in the factories that have now been shut down implies that they did not take effective measures to monitor thier own processes when the outbreak became public, months ago.  Had they done so, the organism would by now not have been present.  It is bad enough that major suppliers to the food market with high-profile brands could allow such lapses in health monitoring and controls in the first place, and unthinkable that they did not check and clean up their processes once the outbreak became known. SANCU urges the authorities to monitor the recall processes very carefully, as these lapses provide reasonable grounds not to trust the suppliers.

Once the recall has been concluded, there must be further consequences for those responsible.  These consequences should be dire, not so much to punish those involved, but to serve as an example that encourages all food suppliers to be meticulous in future in their hygiene processes and monitoring. The Consumer Protection Act makes provision for administrative fines of up to 10% of annual turnover to be imposed in the case of contraventions.  SANCU expects the National Consumer Commission to make cases to the National Consumer Tribunal for the imposition of the maximum administrative fines on those suppliers involved.  Not doing so will inevitably lead to suspicions of corruption.

The Consumer Protection Act also makes suppliers responsible for any harm caused by their products, and it provides for class actions on behalf of those affected.  These include not only the families of the 180 (so far) deceased, but also the approximately 500 who survived after treatment and who incurred medical costs and other losses as a consequence.  SANCU would love to institute such class actions, but as a very small NGO we lack the necessary resources.  However we are prepared to lend our support in kind to such an action instituted by any other civil society group.