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Consumer protection bodies commit to joining hands

As the NCC considers using social media to solicit complaints.

JOHANNESBURG – National Consumer Commissioner (NCC), Ebrahim Mohamed has emphasised the need for consumer protection bodies, including the NCC the National Credit Regulator (NCR) and the National Consumer Tribunal (NCT) to find ways to complement each others’ work, as opposed to “stepping on each others’ toes”, in order to enhance consumer protection.

“Despite the obvious lack of resources amongst us, it is my view that if we pool resources we can achieve so much more, especially in these difficult economic times,” Mohamed said at a conference on Tuesday.

The NCC, NCT and NCR are holding a two-day conference in Johannesburg under the theme ‘Towards cohesive and comprehensive consumer protection in the market’.

All three of these bodies fall under the Department of Trade and Industry (dti).

Established in terms of section 85 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), the NCC is the umbrella organisation for consumer protection in the country, Mohamed explained. The NCC is mandated to promote fair marketing and business practices, as well as responsible consumer behaviour, he said.

CEO of the NCR, Nomsa Motshegare, said the regulator would continue to focus on reckless lending, deceptive advertising and ensuring that regulations, including credit life caps, are implemented.

According to Motshegare, 42% of South Africa’s 23 million credit active consumers are classified as “impaired”, in other words, are falling behind on their debt repayments.

Motshegare said the NCR would continue to chase unregistered credit providers. Before the promulgation of the National Credit Amendment Act (NCAA) last year, only credit providers that had more than 100 credit agreements on their book or had credit agreements exceeding R500 000 had to register with the NCR.

“Under the NCAA, everyone who provides credit is now required to register with the NCR,” Motshegare explained.

She said the NCR was undertaking a debt relief programme together with the Department of Public Service and Administration to relieve government employees of high indebtedness.

Consumer redress important

Executive chairperson of the NCT, Diane Terblanche, said it was important to discuss over the course of the conference how to improve the extent and quality of the access that consumers have to redress.

The NCT can deal with consumer complaints only after consumers have exhausted other avenues of recourse, such as approaching the company concerned and seeking help from alternative dispute resolution (ADR) agents.

With a case backlog at September 2015 of 8 000 debt restructuring agreements – due to monthly case numbers of these agreements doubling between 2014 and 2015 – Terblanche said the NCT had rolled out motion courts in areas where cases had been filed by debt counsellors.

Between October and December last year, the NCT managed to clear around 3 800 debt restructuring cases and is hoping to have cleared 5 000 by end of this month. The NCT has developed an automated case management system, which it hopes will be up and running by the end of March, Terblanche said.

Meanwhile, NCC spokesperson Trevor Hattingh said that the commission is considering using social media and an app to solicit complaints.

“The challenge with using social media is that no reference numbers will be provided to consumers when they register a complaint, but we are looking into it. We are also looking to provide an app, where people can use an improved website together with an app to lodge complaints, which would allow for the generation of reference numbers,” Hattingh told journalists.

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