consumer affairs bermuda

Know your rights when paying for goods and services

08/12/2011 | It is not uncommon for a business to require full payment of products and services before they have been provided.

In some instances this is acceptable, such as when ordering custom made goods that are not available on the island.

But it does put the consumer at a financial disadvantage when the business is unable to provide the product or service in a timely manner or in accordance with the delivery date as per the Agreement.

We at the Department of Consumer Affairs have received plenty of complaints from consumers who have paid for goods in advance, only to have to wait for months to receive them, or — when they received their order — there were missing and/or wrong parts.

Not to worry. There are laws to protect consumers and it is important that you know your rights and responsibilities.

Take for example, two recent consumer queries.

Refund

Eight weeks ago a consumer ordered and paid for a computer to be brought in from overseas by a local vendor.

On the invoice it clearly stated that this order would take no more than two weeks.

However, the computer is not here and the consumer wants their money back. Are they entitled to a full refund? Yes they are.

This business has not provided the product in a timely manner or in accordance with the delivery date as per the Agreement and a breach has occurred. Failure to refund your money is a breach of the Consumer Protection Act 1999.

Another consumer was in the process of placing a special order for custom kitchen cabinets and the supplier asked for full payment in advance.

Can a business do this and how is the consumer protected if something goes wrong?

There is no law prohibiting the supplier from requesting full payment in advance.

However, the smart thing to do is offer to pay half in advance and the other half upon delivery.

Before placing the order, get an agreement in writing that clearly stipulates the terms and conditions of this purchase, with a detailed description of the items you are ordering and the delivery date.

In the event that the supplier does not deliver in a timely manner and/or according to the agreement, the consumer is entitled to a full refund and the Consumer Protection Act 1999 stipulates that the vendor must refund the money within 30 days after it has been formally requested by the consumer.

Remember the following. Under the Sale of Goods Act 1978 (as amended in 2002) goods purchased should be:

• Of a satisfactory quality (of a standard that a reasonable person would consider to be satisfactory — generally free from fault or defect, as well as being fit for their usual purpose, of a reasonable appearance and finish, safe and durable);

• Fit for the purpose for which they are generally sold, and also fit for any specific or particular purpose made known at the time of the agreement;

• As described (either verbally, in words or pictures on a sign, packaging or an advert).

Additionally, the Consumer Protection Act 1999 Part III Section 11 (c) (iv) states that it is an unconscionable act in respect of a particular transaction, and in determining whether or not an act is unconscionable there may be taken into account that the person is failing to make a refund (or an appropriate refund) within 30 days from the date the customer requests it, in circumstances where the person failed to supply or substantially supply the goods or services under the terms and conditions of the transaction.

This is a criminal act and the penalties can be severe.

Anyone who engages in an unfair business practice (under the Consumer Protection Act 1999) is guilty of an offence and liable on summary of conviction to a fine of $10,000 or imprisonment for six months.