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Consumer Complaints

You may not be satisfied with goods or services you have purchased. Depending on the situation you may have legal remedies and in any case you can always make your case to the business.

Before pursuing a complaint make sure you have grounds to complain. This means looking at what was agreed to and determining if the business has lived up to their part of the bargain. It also means determining if you have kept your part of the deal. Check the instructions to see whether the problem is the result of something you have done. For example, if a new sweater shrinks because you did not follow the instructions on the attached label, you do not have a legitimate complaint. But if there are no instructions, you may have cause to complain.

Look at the contract terms and determine if you have any cancellation rights or if the terms of the contract have not been met.

If it is a consumer product you are complaining about consider whether a statutory, express or written warranty has been breached and if so how. In cases where there has been no breach of warranty you may still want to go ahead but remember in these cases you have no right to a refund.

Your contract and any warranties may govern what rights you have but you may also have a complaint about things like your treatment by a sales or service person. You can always go ahead and bring any matter to the business’s attention. In most cases businesses are happy to have this kind of feedback.

Disclaimer Clauses

Disclaimer or exclusion clauses sometimes attempt to remove a company or business from any responsibility for damages or injuries caused by a defective product, even if that company or business is at fault. Here are some examples that you may have seen before:

"All work is undertaken at the customer's risk."

"We accept no responsibility for any claims or demands whatsoever, for any damages or loss of personal property while in our care."

"Contents left at owner's risk."

In Saskatchewan, businesses or stores cannot use disclaimer clauses to exclude all liability when the contract is for a consumer product, such as a toaster, TV, car, or bottle of pop. In general, a consumer product includes goods usually used for personal, family or household purposes.

Whether the clause is in small print in the contract, on a poster on the wall, or as a condition on the back of a ticket, it must be brought to your attention before the business can rely on it, and it must be clearly stated.

But the situation is different if the contract is for services. A sale of services is one where the consumer buys a personal service, such as a haircut, a holiday package or repair work, as opposed to buying a product. If the disclaimer clause is part of a contract for services, and you have signed the contract, in some cases you will have given up a right to claim against the seller for damages caused by faulty service. The disclaimer clause may help the business avoid liability, including liability for death or destruction of property, unless the damage was caused by a degree of negligence by the business.

In order for a business to be able to rely on these clauses, however, it must give you notice of the clause before the contract is made. For example, a hotel may not be able to rely upon a disclaimer clause that is on a guestroom wall, because it is not seen by guests until after they are registered. However, if the disclaimer notice is at the entrance hall by the registry desk, the hotel may be able to rely on it, because guests can see it as they check in to the hotel.

Sale of Contracts

Often, when a retailer agrees to finance your purchase, that retailer will sell, or assign, the contract to a finance company. You then will be notified that your payments are to be made to the finance company instead of the store. Although a finance company may claim to not care about any technical problems that you may be having with your wide-screen television, you should remember that you will not have lost any of your rights as a consumer, just because the store has "sold" their contract with you.

Effective Complaining

There are some steps you can take to improve the chances that your complaint will be addressed.

Talk to the Right Person

If you have a complaint about a service or a product the place to start is with the business that sold you that service or product. In the case of products you can go on to the manufacturer if your concern is not dealt with by the seller.

When approaching a business with a concern it is important to talk to someone who has the authority to do something about your complaint. Sometimes that is the person who is right there at the moment but, depending on your situation, this might mean going to someone higher up. Searching the business's website to determine their management structure can help you decide who to address your complaint to. You can also use their website to find contact information for people in positions of authority.

Keep Records

Gather all of your documents, including bills, receipts, warranties and letters. Organize them, so that they are easy to find and refer to. Keep file copies of all letters and other documents. Always retain the originals of the bill, receipt and warranty (make copies of these to send to the businesses). Keep records of all telephone calls regarding your issue and the details of each call. Have all the information readily available when discussing the problem. It is a good idea to write rather than just phone, because you will have more accurate records. You can supplement a letter or email with a phone call as a follow-up for a more personal impact.

Be Polite

Don't be nasty. Rude letters may help you vent some steam, but don't send them. Do not lose your temper. Losing your cool may lead you to regret the ill will it generates. After all, it may be that inefficient management practices are responsible for poor performance, as opposed to bad intentions. In any event, by being rude, you will be less likely to get the result that you want. Being pleasant gives the company an added reason to want to help you.

Be Specific

Be clear and straightforward. Know what you want. Clearly state the problem and the result you expect. Do you want a refund, repairs, or a replacement? How soon do you expect the result?

Don't Give Up

Be aware of the ways in which a business may try to discourage you. Some methods are...

  • the run-around: the seller and manufacturer may blame each other
  • silence: there is no response to your complaint
  • abuse of the legal system: one-sided interpretation of the law, misuse of court procedures to delay and complicate a resolution of the issues
  • blaming the consumer: they may say, "It's all your fault"
  • offering partial refunds or expressing concern but failing to take action
  • use of "Sorry, but it's the company's policy" - you have rights regardless of the company's policy

There often are physical and emotional costs attached to complaining effectively. Consumers may get tired and feel it is just not worth it. Spending a year and a half getting defective insulation in a mobile home repaired is one thing, but is it worth it for a defective toaster or iron? Decide ahead of time what cost you are prepared to invest in getting a remedy.

A consumer dealing with an uncooperative seller or manufacturer can be at a disadvantage when it comes to economic power and resources. Using appropriate agencies can give you some leverage and help pressure or influence the business into doing the right thing.

Do not be intimidated into accepting an offer of settlement that is inappropriate or unreasonable. For example, you may be faced with threats that the offer will be withdrawn if you do not accept it right away, that your credit rating will suffer or that you will face a libel suit. Generally bad publicity is more of a risk for the business than it is for the consumer.

Know that you may have to return several times if you do not get a satisfactory response at once. If it is necessary and worth it, stick with it!!

Next Steps

If you still get no results after making a complaint you will want to decide on the next appropriate steps. You can make a complaint to the Consumer Protection Division by emailing consumerprotection@gov.sk.ca and the Better Business Bureau of Saskatchewan. You could also consider taking legal action. You may be able to take the business to Small Claims Court. If you want to sue for more than the Small Claims limit (currently $30,000) you may want to consult a lawyer about legal action. If you cannot afford a lawyer you could consider representing yourself. For general information see Going to Queen’s Bench Court.

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