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More than a quarter of a million dollars have so far been awarded to consumers for claims brought against businesses in Barbados.

Chairman of the Consumer Claims Tribunal, Jefferson Cumberbatch, made the announcement this morning, while delivering a lecture at the Government Warrens Office Complex on the subject, Ten Years of Reformed Consumer Protection – the Role of the Public Counsel.

Cumberbatch, who is also a senior lecturer in law at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, revealed that between its first sitting in November 2003 and December last year, the tribunal had also heard 412 cases of complaints under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

In 307 of these, he said, the body awarded $383,039 to complainants.

“In the period January to September 2012, the tribunal has heard 55 cases, making awards in 27 of these, and awarding a total of $38,966.26 to deserving complainants,” disclosed the legal consultant.

Cumberbatch also drew reference to complaints addressed by the Office of Public Counsel, to demonstrate how Barbadian consumers have been taking advantage of the processes which protected their rights. He said that the OPC, which was used as a alternative dispute resolution and mediatory system in the first instance, recorded more than 3,500 complaints over its 10 year life.

“Approximately 2,000 of [there], according to the office’s estimation, comprised failures to comply with guarantees in respect of goods, while the others concerned failures to comply with the services guarantees,” stated the new member of the Financial Services Commission.

He added that the most frequently occurring complaints with regards to goods, were failures to comply with the guarantees of acceptable quality, while that in relation to services, was non-compliance with the guarantee, that the service provider would carry out the services with reasonable care.

He explained that where the OPC was unable to resolve a complaint brought against a business, that issue was then referred to the tribunal, which provided free legal representation to the consumer and at the same time make a legal ruling on the case, including awards to the consumer where merited.

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, consumers are provided with adequate protection when they buy goods and services that are ordinarily for personal, domestic or household use or consumption.

It applies only to sellers in trade or business, that is, private sales or sales by auction or tender are not covered. The chairman of the tribunal said the majority of complaints coming before it, was against small businesses. He observed that its greatest difficulty was arriving at the amount of money to be awarded to consumers, adding that the body had been censured by the Office of Public Counsel for the “small” sums being given. This state of affairs, the legal advisor, promised, would be reconsidered. (EJ)

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