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Are Singaporeans More Protected with the New Amendments to the Consumer Protection Act?

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Peter Lin

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If you were one of those who bought a Samsung Galaxy Note7 earlier this year, congratulations! It was recently announced that you could get a full refund. The unprecedented move by Samsung blew my mind, but probably not in the same way its phone model keeps threatening to blow up.

Why? Because even without this global recall, Singaporeans were already protected from purchasing defective products thanks to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.

 

What is the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act?

Put simply, since 2004, the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, or CPFTA, gives us the means of raising an official complaint against a merchant if we feel that we’ve become victims of unfair trading. For example, you pay a supplier in full for a delivery on a specific date. The supplier, despite knowing that he won’t have enough stock to sell you, nonetheless still takes your money and agrees a delivery date he can’t meet.

In the past, this usually led to a long, drawn-out process (which admittedly is still better than nothing) involving CASE, the Consumers Association of Singapore. And sadly, unless the amount of money at stake is really large, consumers often don’t have the time and energy to keep hounding the merchant. As for CASE, it’s largely ineffective because their ability to resolve the situation relies heavily on the merchant’s actions.

Last year, it was revealed that CASE received 32 complaints against a furniture businessman between 2013 and 2015, finally bringing him to court. But what was even more shocking was that CASE had received a total of 44 complaints against this same businessman since 2008! In other words, CASE didn’t do much to stop this furniture businessman until the number of complaints warranted legal action.

Well, those days are hopefully in the past. Last month, the CPFTA was amended significantly, so hopefully this means no more errant merchants.

 

What are these amendments to the CPFTA specifically?

Most importantly, CASE isn’t going to be alone in protecting consumers. As a non-governmental organisation, CASE’s limited resources were stretched just handling consumer complaints, let alone chasing after errant merchants. The amendments to the CPFTA say that, by the end of this year, SPRING Singapore, a government agency directly under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, will handle clamping down on the more serious offenders.

This means SPRING Singapore will be more effective in taking legal action against serious offenders by gathering the evidence to stop unfair practices, be more efficient in bringing these merchants to court and charging them in court should they still insist on continuing to operate.

Just to put it in perspective, due to its previous limitations, CASE has only been able to do this 6 times since the CPFTA began in 2004. That’s pretty pathetic, to be honest.

 

What are some of the new unfair practices that are included in the amended CPFTA?

There are a total of 4 new unfair practices specified in the amended CPFTA. They include:

  1. Purporting to assert a right to payment for the supply of unsolicited goods or services.

In plain English, this means that the infamous Jover Chew practice of inflating the price of a new phone by forcing a customer to pay for extra “warranty” or some other made-up reason is definitely not allowed under the amended CPFTA. No merchant can demand payment for something you did not intend to buy. So, no more happy endings for merchants.

  1. Where an applicable agreement has been entered into in writing and a copy of the applicable agreement has not been given to the consumer, refusing to give the consumer a copy of the applicable agreement upon the consumer’s request.

This means that if a merchant claims you agreed to a product or a service and therefore you have to pay for it, they have to show you proof of the agreement between merchant and consumer. If they refuse to, you have a case against them under the amended CPFTA.

 

So, what do I do if I encounter these unfair practices?

Well, if you think you have a case, then bring your case to CASE (see what I did there). Seriously, they are still your first point of contact to handle your complaints. The difference now is, because their role is mainly to help you, the consumer, they won’t be spending precious resources in trying to chase errant merchants.

 

What do you think of the new amendments to the CPFTA? Do you think they will make a difference?

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Peter Lin

I am the poster boy for reinventing one's self. I've been a broadcast journalist, technical writer, banking customer service officer and a Catholic friar. My life experiences have made me the most cynical idealist you'll ever meet, which is why I'm also the co-founder of a local pop culture website. I believe ignorance is not bliss, and that money is the root of all evil only if you allow it to be.