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Resolving consumer problems effectively

From time to time problems crop up with the products we purchase. When this happens, we as consumers have two options, fix the product still under guarantee or complain with the seller and request a free solution.

The first step to ensure an effective solution to a problem is to be well informed about our rights. In other words, we should gather information on the kind of solution the law entitles us to request. If, for instance, we intend to ask the seller to refund us the money paid for a defective product, we must make sure that we are legally entitled to do so.

In such cases, the law stipulates that when a product turns out to be defective, repair or replacement should be tried out before a refund is requested. We should also keep in mind that we have no legal rights when we change our mind about a product purchased or when faults are the direct result of misuse or normal wear and tear.

We are also responsible for examining the goods we are about to buy, because apparent defects that could have been detected before the sale was concluded may not be legally covered.

Besides gathering information about our legal rights, we should also be well prepared to face the trader. We must make sure that we have all documents related to the purchase. When complaining we will need to present the proof of purchase and any other documentation that supports our claim. Presenting evidence of the problem we are experiencing is also necessary to substantiate our request for a remedy. We should also be ready to explain what went wrong and what solution we are expecting from the seller.

Our attitude while complaining should be assertive but polite

At first we can try to complain to the trader in person or through the phone. Most of the time this is enough to solve the problem. When complaining, it is important that we ask to speak to someone who has the authority to provide us with the solution we are requesting. Our attitude while complaining should be assertive but polite.

If an informal communication with the trader is not enough to resolve our problem, then the next step is to put our complaint in writing. Through a written complaint the seller is clearly informed about the problem and we also have proof of our complaint.

The complaint letter should clearly state what the problem is and what we want the trader to do. We should also ask for a response within a reasonable time, and include our details so that the trader knows where to contact us. Together with the complaint letter we should send copies, not originals, of any documents we have related to the complaint. Furthermore, the complaint letter should be sent by registered mail.

If, at this point, our complaint remains unresolved, we will then need to lodge a formal complaint against the seller with the Office for Consumer Affairs within the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

A complaint with the authority may be registered personally by visiting the MCCAA offices in Blata l-Bajda or online through the MCCAA website at www.mccaa.org.mt. Consumers may also send an e-mail to fair.trading@mccaa.org.mt.

Once a complaint is successfully registered, it will be assigned to a complaint handler to carry out conciliation between the two parties. If even through conciliation we do not manage to obtain the redress we are requesting from the seller, we will then be offered the possibility to take our claim to the Consumer Claims Tribunal.

Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

odette.vella@mccaa.org.mt

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