Words: Words: Laura Jones
Wendy Knowler is a household name. Yet, amid the frenzy of public demands, gripes and questions across her Facebook page (a prayer chain of desperate pleas for help), it’s hard to tell whether the consumer-issue guru is a legal practitioner who writes about consumer issues, or a consumer complaints consultant who charges a fee. Turns out, she’s neither.
Wendy started her career in journalism in 1985. Her website states she’s covered everything from fashion to politics. And, since 1998, consumer journalism. Known by the public as the go-to person for all retail issues unjust, Wendy is well-recognised by many large corporate companies where her involvement in consumer issues often results in successful outcomes for those who’ve been taken for a ride.
As she aptly points out, “I’m not a consumer activist either, because that implies a lack of impartiality. As a true journalist I remain impartial.” And there are always two sides to a story.
It is the cases she writes about that help the public the most. In one of her columns in TimesLIVE an editor’s headline shouts, “EDGARS puts the con into EDCON with their hard to cancel accounts”. The approach says it all.
TRICKIEST CONSUMER ISSUES
Car and house
“These are big-ticket items where things can go wrong.” If you are keen on buying a property, get it professionally assessed by a house- inspection company before your purchase is finalised. You need peace of mind, which will save you from the cost of the time involved when things go wrong.
“Don’t do them. Do not agree to
any product or service over the phone! It’s amazing that people
still do this. Anyone could be on the other end of the line. You don’t know. Everything is stacked in a call agent’s favour: they have the sales script, and the terms and conditions which they read out at breakneck speed, and they have a recording that you’ll battle to get your hands on if there’s a dispute. Usually, they’re calling you when you’re in the middle of something, so you’re on the back foot.”
Wendy says that in her experience, people become expert researchers only after they’ve been caught. “It doesn’t seem to occur to the many people that the time to invest your energy is before you buy. And always presume it’s a scam until your research proves otherwise.
Plan for the best, expect the worst, whether it’s a holiday, wedding or car purchase. Find out what protections you have when things go wrong. Pretend in your mind that things have gone wrong. Ask, can you get hold of the company? Do they have a real physical address that is public? Search Google Earth for the given address. Always proceed as if it could be the worst-case scenario.”
CPA RESOURCE LIST
The CPA is a 98-page document accessible at www.gov.za. Its sections are clearly set out and easily indexed and it’s an easy read. The CPA Regulations are also available at www.gov.za.
When companies turn a deaf ear, you can sue in the small claims court for up to R20 000. It’s an inexpensive, lawyer- free way to settle commercial issues. Download a letter of demand at
CONTACTS FOR WHEN YOU NEED HELP
Ombudsman for Banking Services
34 – 36 Fricker Road, Ground Floor, Illovo, Johannesburg; WhatsApp the Ombud on (066) 473 0157; email@example.com
Ombudsman for Long-term Insurance
PO Box 805, Pinegowrie 2123; Tel: 0861 662 837; firstname.lastname@example.org
Ombudsman for Short-term Insurance
PO Box 32334, Braamfontein 2017; Tel: (011) 726 8900; Sharecall 0860 726 890; email@example.com
Ombud for Financial Service Providers
PO Box 74571, Lynnwood Ridge 0040; Tel: (012) 762 5000/470 9080; firstname.lastname@example.org
Pension Funds Adjudicator
PO Box 580, Menlyn 0063; Tel: (012) 748 4000; email@example.com
PO Box 74571, Lynnwoodridge 0040; Tel: (012) 470 9080; firstname.lastname@example.org
Financial Services Board
National Credit Regulator
PO Box 209, Halfway House, Midrand 1685; Tel: (011) 554 2700, 0860 627 627; email@example.com
Council for Medical Schemes
Private Bag X34, Hatfield 0028; Tel: (012) 431 0500, 0861 123 267; firstname.lastname@example.org
Private Bag X677, Pretoria 0001; Tel: (012) 366 7000; email@example.com
The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC)
A non-profit organisation, formed by the four major banks. Keeps you up to date on latest banking, tech scams, and different types of fraud: www.sabric.co.za
Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman (CGSO)
The Office of the Consumer Goods
and Services Ombud (CGSO) is
the consumer goods and services industry’s compulsory Ombud scheme, set up in line with the Consumer Protection Act. It enforces a code of conduct by and deals with consumer goods complaints free of charge. It also investigates alleged contraventions. Tel: (011) 781 2607; Sharecall: 0860 000 272 (CPA); firstname.lastname@example.org, www.cgso.org.za
PO Box 12314, Hatfield 0028; Tel: (012) 431 9105, 0800 622 837; email@example.com