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What does our law say about written agreements?

In the motoring industry there are many laws that affect the purchasing of a car. In this instance we will endeavour to shed some light on the Consumer Protection Act and the National Credit Act.

The Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 came into effect on 1 April 2011. The purpose of this Act is, among other things, to promote fairness, openness and respectable business practices between the suppliers of goods or services and the consumers of such goods and services.

The values of the Consumer Protection Act emphasise a need for  transparency between the parties.  In this instance transparency means your contract terms and conditions are easily accessible, and they are in clear and understandable language. The contract is well structured and accurately cross-referenced.  Essentially it is written in such as way that the consumer will understand with ease and will be in a better position to enter into the contract as he/she understands the meaning and implication of this contract.

Other aspects that are equally important, and have an effect on the consumer’s understanding, are the following:

1.    Information disclosure

2.    Drawing the consumer’s attention to the terms and conditions

3.    The size of the prints

4.    How to go about interpreting these terms and conditions

The above will impact on the consumer rights to plain and understandable language as well as information and disclosure of information particularly in written contracts as entrenched in Section 22 of the Consumer Protection Act.

But what is plain and understandable?

The phrase "plain and understandable”, means to be "clear"; "understandable" and "user-friendly". This means that all difficult legal concepts and documents should be transformed or simplified into a language that will be understood and appreciated by the class of person to whom the contract is intended for, which means a consumer should not have to transport a thesaurus or dictionary when contracting with service providers.

Furthermore please note this only applies to contracts that are required to be in a written format. Should the service provider voluntarily make available written contracts to his consumers, he must ensure that he complies with the Consumer Protection Act.

The Act goes further in Section 50 to compel all written consumer agreements to be in plain language.

Another aspect of a consumer’s right to plain and understandable language is manifested in the National Credit Act 34 of 2005 which requires that information be provided to the relevant party in one of the country’s official languages.  

The Consumer Protection Act has made the use of plain and understandable language compulsory in contracts and documents intended for all consumers. A consumer has a right to appreciate and understand the contract he or she signs.

 Where a consumer is not afforded this, the values of the various pieces of legislation are not given effect which in itself means that our consumer is being deprived of his or her rights thereby prejudicing themselves and our society.  

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