Council gives back $3.4 million to Consumers through mediation

July 6, 2016

The Consumer Council of Fiji received and investigated 1,672 complaints between 1 January 2015 and 31 December 2015, with a monetary value of $4,739,690.77. Of this, a sum of $3,429,560.82 was recovered by successfully resolving 1,041 cases through mediation and given back to the consumers.

Mediation is widely used by the Council to get people together in a confidential setting to talk about their dispute and to find a positive way to solve their problem.

Consumers have come forward with a range of complaints such as electronic goods, landlord tenancy issues, food and drink, hire purchase, hair and beauty and debt management related complaints. Complaints against internet service providers, Water Authority of Fiji, motor vehicle dealers (Second-Hand) and television service providers were among other complaints received by the Council last year.

Last year, electronic goods (Home), mobile products, landlord/tenancy, hardware and food and drinks topped the list of complaints received by the Council from the consumers.

Consumers from all walks of life lodged their complaints and raised concerns regarding electronic goods, such as washing machines, fridge, rice-cookers, televisions or microwaves. We recorded a total of 214 complaints and some consumers who had grievances regarding the quality of these products. Some products purchased by the consumers turned out to be faulty or dysfunctional only after days of its purchase. In some cases, there was no back-up service and lack of spare parts available when the products needed repair. Consumers were also affected by traders who failed to provide appropriate disclosure to them at the time of purchase.

The same goes for the mobile phone products, which hit number two on our complaints-chart with 169 complaints registered. Issues related to counterfeit brands, no arrangements for manufacturer’s/supplier’s warranty and no provision for back up services. Consumers were also given a run around as some mobile headsets came with only a month’s warranty or covered only limited features of mobile phones.

Affordable housing remains a burning issue in the country and the Council continues to receive complaints and concerns regarding landlord/tenancy. 136 complaints were recorded last year which were related to unfair tenancy agreements, 7 days’ notice to vacate, tenants being locked out of their homes. The consumer watchdog also received grievances from consumers whose landlords refused to refund rental bonds/deposits and gave unjustified quotations for wear and tear of their rented premises. The latest trend noted by the Council is that some landlords go to the extent of disconnecting water and electricity supply to the tenants’ flats. Dealing with such unscrupulous landlords is not easy but the Council makes an effort to contact them to amicably resolve complaints. Another issue was the sudden increase of rent despite a rent freeze order placed by the Government. Some landlords had absolutely disregarded the rent freeze order and put their tenants at their mercy by raising the rents without getting approvals from Fiji Commerce Commission.

Hardware complaints stand at 85 with consumers raising concerns over the quality of hardware sold in some hardware shops, no disclosures provided by the salespersons, items sold were not fit for the purpose they were initially purchased for.

Moreover, 76 complaints were registered in relation to food and drinks. The aggrieved consumers exposed certain retail outlets, manufacturers, restaurants and bakeries found to be selling expired food/beverage items, damaged items, products with unclear ambiguous labels and foreign objects in the products.

Three weeks into the New Year and the Council continues to receive similar complaints.

Consumers are advised to exercise caution and be smarter this year. Here are some tips to make your 2016 a prudent one:

  • Demand for disclosures when purchasing electronic goods or mobile phone products, laptops and other gadgets;
  • Read the labels, look out for expiry dates before buying food items;
  • Test the items before purchasing them;
  • Read your hire purchase agreements. Look out for unfair contracts, provisions on warranties, insurance, etc.;
  • When flat-hunting, thoroughly check out the flats/houses. Ensure there is a tenancy agreement which must be thoroughly read and understood by both parties before moving in. Tenants should always demand for receipts upon payment of their rental bond and rent.

Consumers are encouraged to lodge their complaints with the Council or other consumer protection agencies if their rights have been breached. However, the golden rule is that they must come forward with evidences in form of receipts, agreements, disclosure statements and quotations.