Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Consumer Affairs recovers $2m annually
The Consumer Affairs Division recovers approximately $2 million in refunds and credit notes for citizens who seek advice and help, Dexter Morgan, director of Consumer Guidance, Consumer Affairs Division, Ministry of Trade told the T&T Guardian yesterday. “On a yearly basis we can get almost 1,000 registered complaints. We have almost 4,000 calls a year to our division and we also have a 75 per cent to 80 per cent resolution rate,” he said. The Division, rebranded and now under the purview of the Ministry of Trade, is currently on a campaign to raise public awareness of its services.
Morgan explained that its main task is to protect consumers and their rights: “If you buy an item and it has a manufacturer’s defect and you go back to the store and the supplier refuses to assist you, the consumer can come to us and we would undertake to investigate on their behalf. “We also have consumer laws in place that are designed to protect the consumer, like the Consumer Protection and Safety Act and the Trade Description Act, which is public legislation.” Up to last year, Division was under the Ministry of Legal Affairs and now there is a drive to raise its public profile.
“The Trade Minister said if you do a test around the Savannah and ask ten persons if they are aware of the Division you would only get one or two saying they know about it. Based on this, the minister said there should be rebranding. We have been to the malls throughout the country and we set up booths and interfaced with consumers,” Morgan said. He said the aim is to develop closer ties, not only with consumers but the business community. “It is how they deal with consumer complaints, the quality of goods they sell to consumers and consumer warranty. We need to have a two-fold approach. Yes we are working on behalf of consumers but at the same time we have to be aware of the business owners too,” he explained.
“The Consumers Protection Act deals with goods but there is no legislation to deal with services, so we have draft legislation where we are looking at consumer guarantees for services. We already do this but now we need the legislation to back it up,” Morgan said. He said the division is now on Facebook in their drive to develop a social media presence to keep informing customers of their rights. “Apart from walking off the street or calling, people can also e-mail us,” Morgan added.