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New Consumer Ombudsman
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A CONSUMER Ombudsman has been launched to speedily resolve disputes between retailers or service providers and consumers, at a time when the National Consumer Commission has battled to address the high volume of complaints that reach its offices.

The Consumer Goods and Services Ombud, launched in Johannesburg, was established by retailers and service providers as well as industry associations linked to the consumer sector.

The ombudsman is intended to handle the resolution of disputes before they reach the courts, to avoid clogging up the courts.

The need for an ombudsman arose because the National Consumer Commission — which has a staff of just 70 or so people and operates from a single office in Centurion — is being hampered in fulfilling its oversight role because it has been bogged down with large volumes of complaints.

At the launch, acting consumer commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed welcomed the establishment of the ombudsman, saying it would carry out the functions assigned to it under the Consumer Protection Act. "This is a positive step because it (the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud) will be present in all provinces, which means extension of consumer protection mechanisms," Mr Mohamed said.

The executive director of the Aerosol Manufacturers Association and former head of legal and regulatory affairs at the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, Nick Tselentis, said the formation of the ombudsman was a means of building on the guidelines of the Consumer Protection Act. "The process (of establishing the ombudsman) needed full-time assistance from the industry, whose efforts varied in terms of service standards to the consumer. In the case of disputes, consumers find it frustrating when they do not get answers from retailers regarding a complaint," Mr Tselentis said.

The next step would be for the ombud office to formalise a board and to appoint an ombudsman who would operate from premises in Randburg, he said. The appointment is expected by the end of April.

The process of establishing the ombud included setting up a call centre with a 125-strong staff in Cape Town to carry out the functions of the ombud until it was launched.


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