Strike makes MTN a target for consumer complaints

MTN SA is still feeling the effects of a prolonged strike by its workers last year — the telecoms giant notched up the highest number of complaints against any company in SA.

This is according to the consumer ombudsman’s 2015-16 annual report, which acknowledged, however, that some of the complaints could be due to a mistake.

Of the 3,495 complaints received by the ombudsman’s office between March 2015 and February 2016, 613 were lodged against MTN. JD Group came a distant second, with 172 complaints.

“The high number of complaints against MTN was a result of the strike,” said the report.

Some of them were partly a mistake as MTN had displayed the ombudsman’s number on its webpage, the report said. “This resulted in many complainants calling CGSO (Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman) thinking that they were calling the MTN complaint line.”

The ombudsman was set up in 2013 to reduce the burden of consumer complaints on the National Consumer Commission.

Among its main work, the ombudsman seeks to ensure that suppliers uphold the code of conduct for the consumer goods and services industry, which sets minimum standards of conduct for when dealing with consumers.

However, the code does not empower the ombudsman to make binding rulings or impose sanctions.

CGSO received 3,495 complaints. The highest types of complaint were for cell pones at 951, services with 795 and furniture at 523. The kinds of retailers that received the least amount of complaints were Food and Beverages, Jewellery and Home Décor.

In one of the cases relating to furniture, a stock manager refused to hand over a sleeper couch after the complainant paid the displayed priced of R2,199.99, saying that the wrong price had been placed on it. The complainant was asked to pay an additional R800 to get the couch. The common law position that an advertisement did not constitute a binding offer has been altered by section 29 of the Consumer Protection Act, which states a supplier is bound by the price displayed, unless it contains an inadvertent and obvious error.

On the facts, the display price of R2,199.99 was not that much lower than R2,999.99 that it gave rise to an inference that it was an obvious error. Accordingly, the supplier was bound by the incorrect price, said CGSO.

According to the annual report, of the 1,715 cases within the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman’s jurisdiction and in which there was an outcome, 69% were resolved by the consumer receiving all or part of what was claimed or some other assistance.

“In many instances, the suppliers in question acted in the spirit of good customer relations by providing refunds or other relief even though they were not obliged to do so under the strict application of the law,” said ombudsman advocate Neville Melville.

He also said a worrying large number of eligible businesses were not members of the ombudsman.

Mr Melville said the office had a backlog of cases as it did not have the necessary resources or funds to deal with them.



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