The Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman (CGSO) says that mobile network providers and telecoms companies are some of the most frequently complained about businesses in South Africa.
In a recent note, the ombudsman said that nearly a quarter (24%) of all complaints in the last quarter of the year related to these businesses.
It noted that these complaints are wide-ranging, from problems encountered when attempting to cancel contracts, to an ‘out of the box clause’ when trying to return a new smartphone. Other issues which frequently crop up include:
- Disputes over data balances;
- Illegal SIM swaps;
- Debit orders that continue to be deducted despite contracts being cancelled;
- Unfair claims of blacklisting;
- Service providers running special deals which are no longer available.
“Many complainants wrote of having to deal with tired, unresponsive, and on occasion ill-informed employees. Covid-19 staff shortages seem to be playing a role here, and suppliers must be mindful of the reputational risk of spreading staff too thinly and not equipping them to deal with staff effectively,” it said.
“There is also a need to review and amend contracts to ensure that they are compliant with the spirit and intent of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), it said.
The CGSO said that complaints against mobile service providers are historically tricky to deal with, as almost all providers have declined to sign up with the ombudsman, as they argue that they are already government by regulator Icasa.
It added that network providers have entered into a memorandum of understanding with the National Consumer Commission (NCCC), through Icasa, to deal with complaints that fall outside Icasa’s jurisdiction.
“Generally, consumers have multiple contracts involving several telecoms providers, so knowing when to direct a complaint to Icasa and when to go through our office is a source of confusion and frustration for consumers who end up being pushed from pillar to post,” the ombudsman said.
“We are currently in discussions with the NCCC to resolve this issue as Section 70 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) expressly gives consumers the right to pursue an alternative dispute resolution process before lodging a complaint with the NCCC.”
The current arrangement denies consumers this right and subjects them to unnecessary delays in accessing redress, it said.