When can you expect a refund?

The Consumer Protection Act provides significant protection for consumers. The act does not, however, remove the obligations of consumers when undertaking an agreement

Act states it’s the client’s right to demand ‘quality service’, failing this, a refund canbe settled

Lauren writes:
A small business hired a hall for an event scheduled for 7pm on a Saturday.

The event was a choral concert and so sound and lighting engineers, and stage props were all lined up.

At 6pm, the owners of the hall cancelled because there was no electricity. The electricity remained off until about 10pm.

Substantial costs have been incurred by the concert’s organisers, given the circumstances, can the hall rental be claimed back from
the owners by the organisers?

Maya replies:
According to lawyer Nicky Campbell of the South African Law Centre, section 54 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) entrenches the consumer’s right to demand “quality service”.

Quality service includes the consumer’s right to the timely performance and completion of services rendered by the supplier.

Where the supplier cannot render the services, the consumer is entitled to the “timely notice of any unavoidable delay in the performance of the services”. This is clearly stated in section 54(1)(a).

Campbell says: “If a supplier fails to perform a service for whatever reason, the consumer may require the supplier to either remedy any defect in the quality of services performed or refund the consumer a reasonable portion of the price paid for the services, having regard to the extent of the failure – section 54(2)(a) and (b).”

In other words, you would be within your rights as a consumer to ask for a refund, although the owners could withhold a reasonable portion as they would also have incurred a loss.

If a venue is cancelled due to bad weather, Campbell says the supplier must provide the client with an alternative date.

If the client refuses to accept an alternative, the supplier is entitled to charge a reasonable cancellation penalty.

Reasonable charges
When it comes to refunds, Campbell says section 17 of the CPA is also of relevance as it gives the consumer “the right to cancel any advance booking, reservation or order for any goods or services to be supplied”.

Where the consumer exercises this right, the supplier may impose a reasonable charge for cancellation of the order or reservation.

The question of what is considered a reasonable charge depends on the circumstances.

Campbell says a charge is unreasonable if it exceeds a fair amount, having regard to:
» The nature of the goods or services that were reserved or booked;
» The length of notice of cancellation provided by the consumer;
» The reasonable potential for the supplier, acting diligently,
to find an alternative consumer between the time of receiving the cancellation notice and the time of the cancelled reservation; and
» The general practice of the relevant industry.

The only instances where a supplier is prohibited from charging a cancellation penalty is where the consumer cancels the booking, reservation or order because of the death or hospitalisation of the person for whom, or for whose benefit the booking, reservation or order was made. Look at section 17(5).

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