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[Consumer Affairs]

 

Citizens Advice Bureau - a new concept for Sri Lanka

The Citizens Advice Bureau is a concept and a mechanism prevalent mostly in the UK and many other parts of Europe to assist the citizens in their day-to-day life.

There is a vibrant legal aid network in the UK sponsored by the Government which spends a substantial portion of the national income for Legal aid, Social Security and Housing. The UK is a free country free for investors worldwide to invest.

It is fertile investor land because there is freedom and atmosphere for free trade in the country.

People feel free and adapted to the system and trade is in their blood being traditional traders.

The government looks after every strata of the society in all areas.

There are avenues for rich as well as poor to lead a comfortable life.

There are no major struggles or uprisings because the Government is sensitive and conscious about the difficulties of people.

There is free education, free health system, stable social security system and housing benefits for homeless, and on top of all a free legal system.

The Government respects the right to know and the freedom of press and steps have been taken to educate the citizens in order to make their lives easier.

CABs are helping the citizens find out how the government machinery runs, where to find, what to find, and when to find any information. Their difficult issues and problems are dealt with and managed by CABs which is known as CABX in plural which is a French word.

CABX are run on its own, by Councils or by the government. It is an organized network of voluntary organisational network, where citizens are advised on various matters on various subjects under the same roof.

There is no similar institution exist in Sri Lanka yet. The CAA has initiated to set up a model CAB at the CAA premises soon which will be the first of its kind. The CAA will be inviting the Legal Aid Commission, Nenasala, and similar advisory bodies and individuals and non governmental institutions to be partners in this in various ways.

For example, if a citizen wants to find out information about a government institution, corporation, the information will be given with necessary advice to the parties concerned. Experts and volunteers too will serve in this project in various capacities.

It is to the credit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Presidential Secretariat to have initiated to set up Call Centre “1919” which provides information about twenty government institutions, on the phone backed by “Nenasalas”. This concept and the programme is successful in Sri Lanka.

There is no similar institution set up anywhere in the world to date.

Any body who wants any information even from Anuradhapura can make inquiries on the phone on any of the listed institutions, and receive the relevant information immediately by experienced call center employees trained for the job. The information in document could be received via Nanasalas established in the country to wherever he or she lives.

This is advanced information on the concept and the procedure and the citizens will be informed of details in due course. Once the CABs are set up, citizens will be able to obtain information, advice, assistance on any subject and any organisation by just walking into the centre - and it is a service free of charge.

Sarath Wijesinghe,
CAA. Chairman


Guarantees and warranties

Guarantees are offered free of change by manufacturers. In law, a guarantee is considered to be “an agreement to provide some benefit for a set period of time in the event of the goods or services being defective”.

Eg. A microwave oven manufacturer will offer a guarantee with their product for 01 year in that they will carry out free repairs for problems caused by a manufacturing defect. Guarantees give you additional rights and could be a useful backup when investing money to purchase items, specially, high priced items, appliances etc.

With some goods you may get a manufacturer’s guarantee where a manufacturer cannot refuse to deal with a customer’s complaint about a faulty product simply on the grounds that the product is outside its guarantee period.

Warranties are similar to guarantees, in that they provide a ‘legally binding’ assurance that any problems caused by manufacturing defects during a set period will be remedied.

However, unlike guarantees, in most developed countries, the customer usually pays for this extra protection which covers accidental damage, cost of repairs and replacement parts.

A guarantee or warranty from the manufacturer may enable the purchaser to claim a free repair or replacement within a given time period. For the guarantee to be effective, you may have to ensure that a registration card may have to be filled and returned to the addresses stated in the card (usually to the manufacturer).

The purchaser has to make sure that the seller fills in the details of the purchase correctly as otherwise the card might not be valid and also, the documentation supplied with the goods that tells you how to make a claim under the guarantee should be kept in your custody.

Guarantees should be clear and unambiguous. Always read the guarantee carefully to make sure that you fully understand the terms and conditions in it.

Be extra cautious about what is printed in small letters. If you do not understand fully what is printed in the card please seek clarifications from the trader before you purchase the item. This applies specially to electrical and electronic appliances of very high value.

A guarantee should offer an acceptable solution to a customer in the event of any defect covered by the guarantee within the time specified in it.

Under some guarantees certain costs will have to be borne by the consumer. E.g. When parts of an item are to be replaced, cost for labour will have to be borne by the consumer.

Therefore make sure that you’re willing to pay any such costs in the event the guarantee needs to be enforced.

When enforcing a guarantee, you may need to prove that the fault has been caused by something which is covered by the guarantee. E.g. In most instances guarantees are not enforceable on damage caused to electrical appliances due to lightening or power fluctuations.

Also, when making a claim under a guarantee, make sure that you are within the valid time period covered by the guarantee. E.g. Some appliances are covered for a period of one year less 14 days which is not 365 days.

Guarantees are given not only in respect of goods but it comes with certain services as well.

In the case of services it is worth relying on the competence and the past services carried out by any service provider rather than on companies who offer long term guarantees on services since a 10 year guarantee may be worthless if the company goes out of business during the period of guarantee.

However, it is advisable to discuss terms and conditions of any guarantee offered by the service provider and make sure that you understand same, prior to obtaining any services.

Always insist on a written guarantee from a service provider rather than a verbal assurance.

Deepthi Tissera,
Director (Legal), Consumer Affairs Authority.


Consumer Complaints: key issues

One of the key functions of the Consumer Affairs Authority is to act as mediator to settle consumer complaints. The Act has defined the “Consumer” as any actual or potential user of any goods or services made available for a consideration by a trader or manufacturer. Consumers can forward complaints on “goods” and “services” to the CAA.

“Goods” covers any food, drink, pharmaceutical, fuel and all other merchandise. “Services” includes electricity, water, gas and telecommunication, banking, insurance, shipping and entertainment, production, supply, storage of goods and allied services.

Key issues to note:

In order to get the maximum benefit of this service, consumers must pay attention to the following points:

* When an issue arises in the marketplace, as the 1st step consumer must try to settle the problem with the trader amicably;

* If fails, the aggrieved consumers can forward a written complaint addressed to the Director General of the CAA. Aggrieved consumers have to forward their complaints with 3 months of the purchase of product/service,

* It is necessary to forward copies of all supportive documents you have along with your complaint. These supportive documents are purchases receipt, warrantee/Guarantee card, agreement etc.

* With regard to a complaint on food/beverage, forward your complaint directly to the CAA without informing the trader or the manufacturer / importer;

* With regard to food/beverage you have to submit the defective sample to the CAA if it is available with you.

If possible forward an unopened sample of the same batch. This is very much helpful to prove that the sample is not fit for human consumption.

Consumer redresses procedure of the CAA:

Once the CAA gets a consumer complaint we adopt the following steps in order to grant redress to the affected party;

* Register the complaint and call observations from the respondent

As the 1st step, CAA calls observations from the company on the issue and the possible redress that can be granted to the complainant. If the respondent is willing to offer a fair redress to the complainant, the problem can be settled at the 1st step.

* Call both parties for a negotiation

During the negotiation discussion CAA acts as a mediator and guides the parties to reach an amicable settlement. Our experience shows that negotiation is an effective method to explore better solutions for consumer problems. Our aim is to achieve a win win solution for consumer as well as for the trader.

* Conduct an Inquiry

If the negotiation discussion fails and the complaint fulfils the legal requirements then the complaint is forwarded to conduct an inquiry under section 13 of the Act. After conducting the inquiry, the Authority can order the manufacturer or the trader to comply with the following:

1. To replace the defective product;

2. To refund the amount paid for a defective product;

3. To pay compensation to the aggrieved party.

How to contact us:

CAA is located at 1st and 2nd Floor, CWE Secretariat, No. 27, Vauxhall Street, Colombo 2.

Mailing address: Director General, Consumer Affairs Authority, P.O. Box 1581, Colombo.

Telephone: 011-2393495, 011-2445897, 011-2393577, Hot line: 011-2321696, Fax: 011-2399148, 060-2137182, 011-2399149, email: [email protected], Website: www.consumeraffairs.gov.lk

Chandrika Thilakaratne, Director,
Consumer Affairs and Information, CAA.


Consumer tips

If a supermarket attracts you and you like to spend time there, we just warn you of the trap: Don’t be lured in to buying more than you ever wanted, needed, thought, planned or dreamt of. The tips here would prove an eye-opener to you and an ethical warning to ‘them’.

1. Avoid a shopping basket. You tend to fill them up with products you never wanted.

2. When a store promises lower prices, check out for the weight marked on the packet. It may be less. The actual weight may also be less than the claim on the pack. Avoid products priced irrationally like Rs. 4.99 instead Rs. 5.

3. ‘50% off’ is deference from ‘up to 50% off’ and better than the ‘buy one get one free’ syndrome. These offers make you consume more of a product than you normally would.

4. Looking for cheaper alternatives? Look lower down the shelves. For shopping malls, ‘eye level is by level’. Children would find lower shelves stuffed with their products.

5. We look as we read and write - left to right. Supermarket keep the cheaper items on the right. Costliest ones are found on the left.

6. Recently reduced price is another fake bargain. The rates were never actually so high. We buy because it appears to be a bargain.

7. Essential items and popular ones are always kept in the middle of the aisles. It ensures that we go through all the other products before even sighting the intended purchase. Supermarkets bank on our impulse to buy.

8. Reward cards are generously offered to make us spend more once we own the card. It is not to help us save money but to get us buying products we don’t normally buy.

Competition Promotion Division / 22nd May 2007. (Courtesy: The Consumer

[email protected]

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