Many consumers find themselves handing in their goods to suppliers to be repaired, expecting to be charged a certain amount, but then find that the supplier has charged a much higher amount than expected. Fortunately, the introduction of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 68 of 2008 has brought about significant changes to way suppliers must carry out repair or maintenance services in South Africa.
What are the rights of the consumer when handing in their goods for repair or maintenance work as imposed by Section 15 of the CPA? The background to this discussion involves a careful look at the CPA and the recent commentary by The National Consumer Commission (NCC) pertaining to repairs or maintenance services in the motor industry.
Your rights as a consumer
Section 15 of the CPA regulates the service providers conduct when carrying out any repair or maintenance work. The section specifically applies to transactions with a price value above R1,00 and where the service provider takes possession of the consumer’s goods for repair or maintenance. In this instance the supplier must provide the consumer with an estimate before any commencing with any work.
The service provider may not charge the consumer additional charges unless the consumer was given an estimate that satisfies the prescribed requirement and the consumer has authorized the work; or the consumer has in writing or some other recorded form declined the offer of an estimate and authorized the work; or pre-authorised any charges up to a specified maximum, and the amount charged does not exceed that maximum amount.
If a supplier has provided an estimate for any services or goods the supplier may not charge the consumer a price that exceeds the estimate unless, after providing the estimate the service provider has informed the consumer of the additional estimated charges and the consumer has authorised the work to continue.
What must the estimate specify?
The estimate must specify a breakdown of the goods or services to be supplied, the nature and extent of the service or repair, the period and validity of the quote and the date of collection and the consequences. Such an estimate must be approved by the consumer unless the consumer has declined the estimate or specified a maximum amount to be charged for the service or repair.
The NCC Commentary pertaining to repairs or maintenance services in the motor industry
The Commissioner of the NCC recently published comments for best practices in the motor industry, which state that an estimate of the total cost of repairs or services to a vehicle shall disclose the following information:
- the name of the consumer;
- the repairer’s details including name, physical address and contact information;
- the vehicle details, including vehicle identification number and odometer reading; and
- the estimated costs of the repairs and/or service, including a breakdown of the total amount to be charged, the nature and extent of the repair or maintenance, the period of validity of the quote and the date on which the estimate was prepared.
In addition the supplier must explain any work in more detail on the quotation or estimate, if requested to do so by the consumer.
Any pre-authorised charges up to a maximum amount must be in a recordable format. The consumer must be advised of any additional repairs/maintenance that may become necessary and must pre-authorise these as well. The consumer will be deemed to have declined the additional repairs where they do not accept or decline within 30 minutes of receiving notification. In order for the consumer to be reasonably deemed to have declined the repairs, the 30 minute notification has to be sent at least two times within three hours of receipt of a vehicle by the supplier.
With regards to the work to be carried out on the vehicle, a supplier shall not re-fit parts to a vehicle if the fitment of those parts would render a vehicle unsafe or un-roadworthy or in contravention of manufacturer specifications. In the event of no authorisation being provided by the consumer, the supplier must provide the consumer with a report stating that s/he has been informed that the repairs are necessary, but that the consumer has declined to have the necessary repairs carried out. Any repairs referred to in such a report must be agreed to by the consumer before being carried out.
Furthermore if the supplier is using the services of a sub-contractor to complete any work, the consumer must be informed of this and the supplier may not subcontract the repair of any vehicle that is subject to a manufacturer’s warranty or maintenance/service plan unless prior consent is obtained from the manufacturer of the vehicle or unless the repair is done by an entity pre-approved by the manufacturer. This does not apply to minor repairs not covered in the warranty or maintenance/service plan.
In light of the above it is clear that the CPA strictly regulates the service providers’ conduct when carrying out any repair or maintenance work. No work other than what was contained in the original quotation or estimate must be performed by the service provider without first obtaining the consumer’s consent for the additional work. Failure to do so will mean that the additional work performed are unsolicited (not asked for) and the consumer may not be required to pay for it. As a consequence the supplier will not be allowed to charge the consumer in this instance. Therefore it is important that suppliers understand that an estimate is the highest possible price quotation. If the recent commentary from the NCC remains unchanged, suppliers in the motor industry will have to be aware of the potential impact that the pre-authorisation of additional work requirement may have on their workshop productivity because there are strict time frames to comply with in addition to everything that the consumer must be informed of on the estimate or quotation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Remolla obtained her B.Soc.Sci (Law), LLB and LLM (Business Law) degrees from the University of the Kwa-Zulu Natal. She is a SEESA Consumer Protection & POPI Legal Advisor in Durban and has 5 years of hands-on experience in Consumer Protection law.