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Looking Out for the Vulnerable Consumer PDF Print

Compliance with the Consumer Protection Act is not only about obeying the law, it simply makes good business sense.

Businesses that accommodate the special needs of consumers get a good reputation in all areas of their business. Businesses that take advantage of vulnerable or disadvantaged consumers get a bad reputation, not just with the consumer involved, but with that consumer’s family, friends and the broader community.

Businesses are encouraged to deal with all consumers. However, if it is apparent that a potential customer may not have the capacity to make a voluntary or informed decision about the implications and/or benefits of their purchasing or contractual decisions, then businesses need to act responsibly and take extra care in their dealings to ensure that no unfair advantage is taken.

What do you mean by disadvantaged or vulnerable? Some consumers may be disadvantaged or vulnerable in some marketplace situations if they:

  • Have a low income
  • Are from a non-English speaking background
  • Have a disability-intellectual, psychiatric, physical, sensory, or a learning disability
  • Have a serious or chronic illness
  • Have poor reading, writing and numerical skills
  • Are homeless
  • Are very young
  • Are old

Of course, not all consumers with these characteristics are more at risk of poor business practices. But be aware that your marketing message and conduct may affect some consumers differently when making decisions about buying goods or services.Your business should consider that consumers:

  • Whose English language skills are not good, or who are visually impaired may not be able to compare written contracts with your advertisements or verbal representations. They are at risk if representations about the terms of the contract are unclear, incorrect or fail to mention any key terms. They may view transactions according to cultural values rather than market values.
  • Consumers on low incomes may be inclined to pursue claims about low prices, but they may also suffer greater financial impact if the claims are unclear, incorrect or simply untrue.

You may ask, “Why does my business need to be aware of these issues?”

If your business deals directly with consumers it is likely that some of these consumers will have one or more of the characteristics above. You may even deal in products or services which are specifically designed for or target the ‘vulnerable’ consumer. It is therefore important for your business to be aware of these issues.

Research has shown that dissatisfied consumers do not complain to a business until things go really bad. However this does not mean that they remain silent. People with a complaint will their friends, family and workmates about the poor service they received and the name of the company.

All consumers need sufficient and accurate information to make an informed decision. Special care may be needed when dealing with disadvantaged or vulnerable consumers. Be aware that you and your staff or agents are responsible for ensuring that consumers have that information.

Is your staff aware of the Consumer Protection Act CAP 326D? Have they received relevant training?

Tips for during a transaction:

  • Be alert to any special needs your consumers have and make sure you have systems in place to prevent unfair treatment.
  • Is your marketing message clear and accurate? Keep in mind the different needs of current and potential special needs consumers.
  • Are all documents you use to market goods or services to consumers clear and simple?
  • Have you clearly disclosed important or unusual terms or conditions of the agreement?
  • Does the consumer understand the terms of any agreement associated with the transaction? Has the consumer had an opportunity to consider the offer properly?
  • Consider that it might be appropriate for a guardian, or another appropriate person to be present to either act on the customer’s behalf and/or explain and assist the customer with a decision.
  • If you are in doubt, give the consumer an opportunity to seek advice about the contract before they sign it.

Tips for after a transaction:

  • If things go wrong, be open to resolving complaints and, where appropriate, setting aside contracts and agreements.
  • Do not award your staff or agents for unfair, pressure based selling.

The Consumer Protection Act Cap 326D prohibits misleading or deceptive conduct which can include, leaving out or hiding important information, making false claims about services or products. This applies to all interactions with the public, from the overall impression you create in your advertising to one-on-one sales situations.

If you have any query about Consumer Protection, please contact the Commission at (421 2FTC, or 421 2832).

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