All you need to know about the Consumer Ombud

Poor service, bad quality products and broken promises are some of the problems that are faced by consumers.However, when you buy a product or service, you can feel safe and empowered in the knowledge that if anything goes wrong, there is an Ombudsman ready to hear your case and resolve disputes.

 What exactly is an Ombud?

An Ombud is an independent service that deals with a complaint you may have with an organization, if that organisation hasn’t been able to satisfactorily deal with your complaint. Ombud schemes are free for consumers to use, and are an alternative to going to court to sort out a problem. An Ombud acts as independent ‘referee’ who looks at both sides of the argument, makes enquiries, asks questions and comes up with a remedy or solution that they believe is fair.

 What types of Ombud are there?

Ombud schemes tend to cover a particular industry or sector.  For example, the Financial Services (FAIS) Ombudsman deals with complaints about financial services companies; likewise the Motor Industry Ombud would deal with motor-related complaints. There is an Ombudsman for the Press, for the Short Term Insurance, for Long Term Insurance, for Banking Services and for Credit.

The Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO) has now been established to deal with consumer complaints within the consumer goods and services industry in an efficient and fair manner.

The CGSO educates consumers on their rights and assists in resolving disputes that arise between consumers and the industry, in terms of the Consumer Protection Act.  Previously if you had a goods and services complaint, it would have been handled by the National Consumer Council (NCC). The hope is that the new retail ombudsman will ease the burden of the NCC, which receives an average of 8 000 complaints per month, and allow for far speedier complaint handling. The CGSO will therefore play a vital role going forward in having complaints dealt with in a speedy and efficient manner, says Ebrahim Mohamed, chairman of the NCC.

“The ombudsman is a service to the consumer. Complaints we receive range from not being able to return groceries that were purchased in a spoiled state, to buying face products that caused an irritation,” says, Patricia Pillay, head of the SA Retail Council, recently formed as a voice of retailers within the CGCSA.  “The CGSO call centre has been running for the last year and the success rate of the resolution of complaints has been really good.”

So what do you do if you have a consumer goods and services complaint?

 1. Know what your rights are

Before you make a complaint be aware of your consumer rights. If you have a written contract or description of the goods or services read what it states. Your complaint will almost certainly be much more effective if you are aware of your rights. Remember: A repair, a replacement or a refund are all possible options where goods are faulty.

 2. Deal with the issue as soon as possible

If a product is defective or you are unhappy with service received, you need to lodge a complaint with the relevant retailer. As soon as possible, contact the business to explain the problem and the outcome you would like. In many cases a simple phone call or visit can fix the problem.

 3. Find and keep all relevant documents

It is your responsibility to prove that you bought the goods or services that you are complaining about. It is important to keep any documents relating to your complaint. It is also useful to keep track of the steps you took to address this complaint. That means keeping receipts as proof of purchase for the products or services. If you are complaining by telephone, make sure you record details of the calls. That is, keeping track of whom you spoke to, what was agreed, etc. If your complaint is in writing, keep records of what you write, send photocopies of receipts and keep originals.

 4. Start at the least formal level

You should begin by making your complaint informally. This means giving the retailer or service provider the first opportunity to solve the problem. Many companies have their own complaints procedures and customer service departments that are focused on resolving customer problems, and most are a solved in this manner. It is advisable to speak to a ‘decision-maker’ such as a supervisor or a manager who may have the authority to give you a refund or replacement. If informal contact with the business doesn’t work you should next put your complaint in writing.

 5. Know when to contact the Ombud

If your complaint is not resolved to your satisfaction, you may then refer the matter to the CGSO. The Ombud will clarify the issue with you and undertake any necessary investigation. The supplier then has to either provide proof that the matter has been resolved or provide reasons why it is unable to do so. The CGSO will then determine if actions or reasons given have been sufficient.

If deemed acceptable, the CGSO will inform you that the matter will be closed unless challenged. During that time set, the CGSO will then negotiate a settlement between you and the supplier if it considers it appropriate to do so. Should this be unsuccessful, the CGSO may launch a full investigation into the matter.

 6. Know what the CGSO covers

The Ombud will deal with all suppliers in the consumer goods and services industry, including retailers, suppliers, wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers, producers, importers, intermediaries, logistics and supply chain agents in the FMCG industry.  This includes suppliers/subscribers in the consumer goods and services industry who produce, supply, and/or provide services related to food, tobacco, beverages, pet food and pet products, electrical appliances, electronic goods, general merchandise including tools, DIY goods, sporting goods, home care products, LP Gas, furniture, textiles, building and hardware material, jewelery, cosmetics, toiletries and fragrances, as well as toys and stationery.

It excludes motor vehicles, banking and insurance, credit, travel clubs, education, competition commission, broadcasting, debt matters, electricity, petroleum, estate agents and government complaints.

 Press statement issued by the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud

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