In breach

FTC too slow in actioning complaints, says Gibbs-Taitt

Unhappy with the quality of service they have been getting, Barbadian consumers turned to the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) in droves last year to formally register their dissatisfaction.

However, of the total number of 776 complaints lodged under the Consumer Guarantees Act and forwarded to the Office of Public Counsel, only five were actually resolved, according to the just released FTC report for 2016.

=This had nothing to do with the 2,555 consumers who contacted the FTC either by telephone or by visiting the Green Hill based consumer watchdog agency seeking advice on matters relating to their rights under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

Of that number, 2,226 were telephone queries — mostly between July and September last year — and 329 were queries from consumers visiting the office of the commission. Forty-eight written queries were also lodged with the FTC.

“Five complaints which were recorded by the Commission during this assessment period were resolved. Three outstanding complaints from the 2014-2015 period were brought forward and resolved. One complaint from 2014–2015 was reopened, as the consumer provided additional information to substantiate the claim. This matter has now been resolved,” the report added.

During the April 2015 to March 2016 review period, a total of 112 complaints were made against utility companies with 70 of them, or 62.5 per cent, resolved within the same period. The majority – 78 per cent – were related to Cable & Wireless service and billing issues.

Amid persistent water outages that plagued mainly residents in the north and east of the island last year, the Barbados Water Authority accounted for 17 per cent of the total number of complaints, while the Barbados Light & Power Company accounted for the remaining five per cent.

However, when compared to 2015, there were 27 fewer complaints against the utility companies, whose resolution rate at the time was 72.9 per cent.

Overall, there was an increase in the number of companies operating in breach of the CPA.

In its 2016 annual report, the FTC said that of the 496 contract terms examined in 18 Standard Form Contracts for fairness in banking, retail, technology and other service sectors, 116 were breached.

This compares to the 1,590 terms examined and 71 terms breached in the 28 Standard Form Contracts that were reviewed the previous year.

“The Commission required the businesses to either delete or amend the offending terms to ensure that these businesses were in adherence with the law and is in dialogue with the businesses in order to achieve this,” the FTC said.

The FTC also reported that of the 396 stores to which unannounced visits were made during the period under review, 32 of them were engaged in “unfair trade practices” by displaying prohibited signs, which they were required to remove.

“Most of the businesses have subsequently complied,” the FTC said without naming the companies.

It also pointed out that daily newspapers were “monitored” in order to identify advertisements that contravened the CPA.

“As a result of the Commission’s vigorous educational programme on the CPA’s requirements only 12 advertisements were found to be in contravention of the CPA. The businesses were immediately advised to desist from the practice and comply with the CPA. All of the businesses either deleted or amended their advertisements,” the FTC said.

In response, consumer rights advocate Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt told Barbados TODAY the FTC must shoulder the blame for the increase in breaches to the Act.

FTC CEO Sandra Sealy & Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt

He also suggested that public education was required to correct the issues arising with Standard Form Contracts, while calling for firm action to be taken against businesses found guilty of advertisements that were in contravention of the 14-year-old CPA.

In this regard, Gibbs-Taitt took particular issue with the commercial banking sector saying: “I am amazed at the number of advertising that goes into the paper that are in breach of that Act.

“For example, you may see some reference to the monthly amount or the rate of interest and nothing else,” Gibbs-Taitt said.

A frankly-speaking Gibbs-Taitt said he believed the consumer protection body had become too laid back in recent times.

“For us to be still telling people that they are in breach, something is very wrong about that. Some form of action needs to be taken. For example, if an advertisement is run and it is in breach of the Act, and you get to find out what is the cost of the ad, the FTC simply has to say to them that we demand the money that you are receiving to be paid to a charity,” he recommended.

“No paper would want to do that too often. So there are things that can be done. But I am of the view that in recent times the FTC has got very lax. They are not doing their work and this is roughly in the last two years that I have noticed the lax,” he said.

marlonmadden@barbadostoday.bb

5 Responses to In breach

  1. Sunshine Sunny Shine April 20, 2017 at 1:34 am

    Stuuupse!!. You really think I could feel good about publishing such information when I know that the watchdog agency for consumer concerns and other affairs have a resolution record that is so low. Is any business in Barbados afraid of what the consumer act says that so many Barbadians are reported unfairness in their dealings with business and government services?

    Reply
  2. Jennifer April 20, 2017 at 1:36 am

    Here we go, with what appears to be another example of the David and Goliath conundrum. Can one masticate without teet. Mind you there appears to be some back pocket and white washing going on here too, coupled with that inability to really bark and bite just like the good ole days. Maybe there was an injection of too much Novocaine. You know there is a sickness when we got this consumer protection body appearing to be needing protection itself. There has got to be a missing piece to this puzzle. Could it be that we are in a CURSE RATHER THAN A BLESSING or does the bad nail/s need uprooting from the bed/s. Or is it a case of pocket thinking. Mind you our politicians appears to be in the same ship sailing too. One thing for sure, we need to get to the source of the infection to stop the sickness so that the trees can grow and produce fruit. Maybe we need a good STONE.

    Reply
  3. Omar April 20, 2017 at 7:05 am

    This article is poorly written and misleading. First of all the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) is not administered by the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) but by the Office of Public Counsel (OPP). All the FTC can do in this regard is when a matter comes into them that falls under the CGA they refer it to the relevant entity – the OPP.

    The article also confuses two sections of the FTC’s 2016 Annual report – the Queries paragraph and the Complaints paragraph. So it wasn’t 776 complaints under the CGA that came in but rather 776 queries, which as noted before were transferred to the relevant government entity the OPP.

    But seriously Barbados Today how did your writer manage to confuse two separate and distinct paragraphs in the annual report when one section was clearly labeled Queries and the other Complaints??

    Reply
  4. Milli Watt April 20, 2017 at 9:35 am

    now if every body refuse to pay their utility bills for three months maybe…… just maybe these parasites for utilities would hear about the complaints…….just suggesting.

    Reply
  5. Sheron Inniss April 20, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    The Unfair Trading Commission. What is the minimum fee for not receiving water? The same as when you are receiving? The system is an ass.

    Reply

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