Consumer Claims Tribunal – Faulty products
From exploding dining tables to smoking vacuum cleaners, general consumer goods seem to be giving purchasers a lot of grief. IT was just past 6am in May last year when Gary Wong (not his real name) and his wife were awakened by a very loud bang in his home.
“We actually thought someone had crashed through the front of our house, but when we peeped out the window, we saw nothing. Then we heard a second ‘bang’ coming from downstairs,” he recalls.
They crept downstairs to investigate and what they found shocked them – the tempered glass of their dining table had “exploded”.
“There were shards in the dining room, the living room, the kitchen … there were even shards embedded into the wall. It didn’t just shatter and break … it had somehow exploded!”
Wong, 51, a mechanic, had bought the dining table from a reputable company for about RM4,400 in March 2011.
“After the incident, we contacted the company involved but they told us that the table was no longer under warranty. I wasn’t expecting a new table … I just wanted to inform them that such a thing had happened, and to find out how it was possible that the tempered glass could explode.
“Their response was: ‘It will only explode when there is nobody around, so you don’t have to worry.’ What kind of a response is that? We were very lucky that we weren’t eating at the time. We could have been seriously injured, or even blinded!” he says, adding that he was very disappointed with the company’s response and lack of concern.
In another incident, business owner A. Sarawasthi, 37, says she, too, has had a frustrating experience over her purchase – a vacuum cleaner.
In 2008, Sarawasthi, a mother of two, invested in a high-end vacuum cleaner which cost RM4,900.
“I sent the vacuum cleaner for its annual servicing as part of the maintenance requirement. When I sent it for servicing last June, I told the technician that the vacuum cleaner was louder than usual and it didn’t sound right.
“He checked the motor, did the regular servicing, and told me everything was fine,” she explains.
However, two weeks later, Sarawasthi couldn’t turn the machine on, so she brought it back to the service centre.
“I was told the motor wasn’t moving. When they tried to fix it, smoke came out. They then told me that the motor was gone and I would have to replace it.
“First of all, why didn’t they detect and fix the motor when I sent it for servicing two weeks earlier? Also, their new vacuum cleaners come with a lifetime warranty, but the new motor they want me to buy, at RM2,500, only comes with a one-year warranty. What if the motor fails after one year? The company claims there is nothing else they can do. This is absolutely unfair to me as a customer,” she says.
Wong and Sarawasthi aren’t the only frustrated consumers around.
National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC) legal executive K. Santhosh says the centre recorded more than 3,600 complaints on general consumer goods last year. The previous year, general consumer products – such as mobile phones, furniture and electrical appliances – recorded the second highest number of complaints at a total of 5,764, just slightly less than the 5,985 complaints on the telecommunications sector. The problem products cost consumers some RM2.519mil, NCCC’s Annual Consumer Complaints Report 2012 noted.
Of the 5,764 complaints, the top four product categories were consumer electronic/telecommunication products (36%), furniture (23.5%), electrical appliances (17.6%), and clothing and accessories (11.1%). In all four categories, the majority of the complaints were on product quality and performance, service quality, and price or charge disputes.
This is a great cause for concern as faulty equipment can cause injuries, and in certain instances, even death. In September last year, a Japanese couple in Mont Kiara was found dead in their bathroom, reportedly electrocuted by a faulty water heater.
Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) head of complaints Ravinder Singh says such complaints are very serious as they also deal with the issue of business ethics.
“If you sell a product and it doesn’t work, you should be responsible and do something about it. Complaints like this should not be dismissed because you’ve taken money from the consumer.
“As for the consumers, if you’ve bought something and it doesn’t work, go back to the supplier and make your complaint there. If they do not respond, put it in writing to the principal company,” he says.
He adds that if the company still fails to respond appropriately, the consumer should then file a case with the Consumer Claims Tribunal (under the Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry) for claims below RM25,000.
“In your claim, you should name both the principal company and the agent who sold you the product. The tribunal will weigh if the complaint is fair, and they may make an award to repair or replace the item.
“If the customer claims he no longer has any confidence in the company, then he may be awarded a refund. In cases where the item is still very new, they may even award a full refund,” Ravinder explains.
Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Hasan Malek agrees that manufacturers should always abide by the business code of ethics to sustain their customers and business.
“The Consumer Protection Act 1999 has allocated consumers the right of redress if the goods or services acquired do not meet the implied or expressed guarantee as stated in the Act. The ministry has also prepared guidelines for the implementation of redress which is available at www.kpdnkk.gov.my as a guide for consumers and merchants,” he says via e-mail.
Between January and September last year, the ministry received a total of 8,587 complaints – 47 complaints involving electrical items and 16 involving furniture. In 2012, the ministry received a total of 10,231 complaints (via e-Aduan) in 43 categories – 54 were on electrical items and 11 involved furniture.
A Sirim spokesperson says Sirim could take action against certified companies on faulty certified products.
“If the product is proven not conforming to the standard or certification requirements, the product certification licence held by the company can be terminated and the company will be instructed to recall the products from the market.
“We encourage consumers to purchase electrical appliances which have been certified by SIRIM QAS International. Consumers should look out for the SIRIM label or SIRIM certification mark on regulated domestic electrical appliances when purchasing their appliances,” says the spokesperson.
He adds that each Sirim label carried a unique serial number.
“All products certified by Sirim complies with international and national standards and the factory has a proper quality control system to ensure consistent and continuous compliance with the standard,” he says.
Santhosh says consumer complaints should always be addressed properly by the companies concerned.
“Companies should also be more transparent about their product warranties – what is included and what isn’t – and make it known to their customers. Customers, on the other hand, should take the initiative to clarify these points before making their purchase,” he concludes.