Council gives back $1.4m to consumers

20/10/2014 17:02

A total of 1,618 complaints worth more than $2.5 million were registered and investigated by the Consumer Council in the last nine months. That is an average of 179 complaints per month or roughly 9 complaints per working day.

The Council through effective mediation managed to resolve 918 complaints, which resulted in putting $1.4 million back into consumers’ pockets. Every year consumers lose millions of dollars through unfair trading practices.

Top concern in the last nine months was the removal of nine popular channels by the Sky Pacific where 351 complaints were registered. However after public outcry, Fiji Television restored 4 channels.

Other complaints on the list are poor quality mobile phones, internet and mobile services, substandard electronic goods, landlord/tenancy issues, utility bills, food/drinks etc.

With zero duty on smart phones, more mobile shops are mushrooming across the country, selling shoddy products which are counterfeit, refurbished or which come without spare parts and back up service. Consumers are faced with problems such as: battery defects, unworkable charger, phone screen going blank, abrupt display of foreign language and other hardware/software issues.

The Council has also noted that mobile phones sold through hire purchase, provide limited disclosure on warranty issues. Investigations reveal that due to fine prints used in the hire purchase agreement, consumers are unable to read and understand what is covered under warranty and what is not.

Other complaints were related to low internet speed, mobile services relating to network issues and misleading advertisements.

Complaints on electronic goods are mostly on home brands. Unavailability of spare parts and back up service are key issues where consumers get no or little redress when their newly-invested electronic goods become faulty. Consumers were dissatisfied with the after sales service, often having to wait for 6 months to get the product fixed. Warranty terms and conditions were not clearly explained, which resulted in disputes when traders demanded repair costs despite extended warranty.

It is foreseeable that these complaints will continue to increase since Fiji does not have the necessary standards to prevent the importation of such shoddy products into the country.

There is a slight decrease in the landlord and tenancy complaints with 110 complaints recorded this year compared to 130 complaints registered for the same period last year.The slight decrease may be attributable to more consumers being aware of their rights and obligations. Issues brought to the Council under this category were: non-refund of bond money; landlords not issuing receipts; not giving a month’s notice to vacate; utility bills incorrectly apportioned; premises not suitable for habitation; and illegal increase in residential rent despite the residential rent freeze.

Complaints were also received against the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) and the Fiji Electricity Authority (FEA). Complaints against WAF related to high billing; incorrect bulk billing, water supply disruptions; and water pipe leakage issues. Complaints against FEA clustered around the general quality of customer service; lack of clarity in billing; high billing; electricity meters incapable of registering accurately; estimated readings; and disruptions to power supply. Complaints against FEA continue to trickle in and unfortunately, remedies available to consumers are quite limited as the outdated Electricity Act does not provide consumer protection.

Complaints related to food/drinks ranged from weevils found in flour, foreign objects found in biscuits, expired products, damaged items, labeling issues and so forth.

The Council expects to see a surge in complaints relating to mobile phones and electronic goods given the festive season.

Consumers are encouraged to lodge their complaints with consumer protection organizations for redress to protect their hard earned money.