How to complain to CAP

Consumers who want to make complaints are welcome to do so. Download the complaint form and fill in all the particulars required. You should state your complaint briefly but clearly, giving all the relevant information.

We expect consumers to have tried to resolve the complaint on their own. If you have not done this, you should do it first. Many complaints can be settled this way. But if you have tried and failed, tell us exactly what you had done.

Your complaint must be supported by relevant information, e.g. invoices, bills, receipts, repair or service documents. Where you may not have such documents, e.g. if your complaint is about a bus or taxi service, you must state the date, time location of incident and most importantly the vehicle registration number.

The complaint form duly filled in and signed, together with clear photocopies of the relevant documents, should be sent by e-mail to consumerofpenang@gmail.com or fax to:

The Consumers Association of Penang,
No. 10, Jalan Masjid Negeri,
11600 Penang.
(Fax no. 04-8298109).

We endeavour to resolve consumers’ complaints, but do not guarantee that every complaint can be resolved. There is also no time-frame for resolving complaints as their nature and complexity vary.

Sometimes after receiving a letter from us, the party complained against may choose to deal directly with the complainant and resolve the matter. If this happen the consumer must give his co-operation and inform us so that we can close our file.

Getting help from CAP

What happens when you complain to Consumers Association of Penang (CAP)? The issue could be about anything, from poor quality products or services to tenancy or pollution. What action can CAP take?
On noting down your complaint, the staff of the Complaints Section will investigate your problem. They might be able to give you an opinion on the merits of your case or suggest an argument or approach that you have not thought of. If necessary, they will act on your behalf to press the other party for redress, compensation or for better services.

Since CAP started in 1969, with only one staff member, a typewriter on a table with a few chairs in borrowed premises, its consumer protection activities have grown tremendously. In 1972 the number of complaints received was 55.

In 2009 the Complaints Section staff were kept busy attending to 1,403 new complaints, not to mention the many  files carried forward from the previous years as some cases took more than one, two or even three years to settle. There were cases where complainants were advised to refer to the Consumer Claims Tribunal, Small Claims Court or were advised to engage a lawyer. There were also 1,779 telephone calls from the public seeking CAP’s advice and making enquiries on the progress of cases handled by CAP.

The list below shows some of the types of complaints received by CAP through the years:

  •   Public service: telephone bills, promotions and billings by handphone companies, IWK charges, public transport, drains, local authorities, police;
  •   Contractual/guarantee/shares: problems faced by guarantors of loans, termination of membership of timeshare companies, delay in refund of money from shares in co-operatives and other general  problems with cooperative loans , salary deductions for phantom loans;
  •   Housing: late delivery, defects, abandoned projects, interest on loans, strata titles, maintenance fees,  sinking funds, booking fees and non-compliance with Tribunal awards;
  •   Insurance: delays in getting claims, non-disclosure, rejection of claims, cancellation of annuities and misappropriation of premiums;
  •   Labour/employment: unfair termination, termination benefits, foreign workers, breach of contract;
  •   Motor vehicles: car defects, late delivery, false registration, car dealers;
  •   Financial institutions: phantom ATM withdrawals, high fees ,credit cards, service charges, mortgage reducing term assurance (for housing loans), problems with properties bought on auctions, transfer of loan accounts to third parties;
  •   Professional services: negligence, breach of contract, unethical conduct, fees and charges;
  •   Direct selling: fly-by-night companies, bogus lucky draws, cooling-off periods, agents absconding with payments;
  •   Environmental issues: air pollution, factories set up in residential areas;
  •   Food: contaminated food, lapsed shelf-life, foreign matter in food;
  •   Correspondence courses/private institutions: delay in fee refunds, non-receipt of certificates;
  •   Tours and travel: tour not conducted according to itinerary, poor quality accommodation, lost or damaged luggage, charges and services provided by express buses;
  •   Land: delay in transfer/subdivision/issuing land title, low compensation by government in compulsory compensation cases;
  •   Hire-purchase: signing blank agreements, repossessions, forged signatures, higher prices than quoted in agreement;
  •   Miscellaneous: problems with get-rich quick schemes, tenancy, pawnshops, mail orders, money lenders and bogus investments.

Through complaints received and handled we see more clearly the deficiencies or strength of the laws. For example, when there is one complaint about a defect in a product, it could just be an isolated case where we seek redress for the complainant. But if we receive many complaints about the same product, something is obviously wrong with the system. In such a situation, besides seeking redress, we also proceed further, for example, by writing to the relevant authorities asking for a ban or a change in the legislation, or by publicising the issue.

So CAP’s approach is basically two-pronged: We seek to resolve consumer complaints by helping consumers to help themselves. At the same time we look beyond the issue of resolving complaints by fighting for better consumer rights and legislation. We also propose amendments to laws or introduction of new laws where there is a need. For example, there is a dire need for an Unfair Contract Terms Act but the government is sitll dragging its feet.

Seeking redress

Even though CAP handles consumer complaints on an individual basis, we encourage groups or communities with common grouses to come together to solve their problems. Our reasoning is that one consumer’s dissatisfied voice can be easily dismissed but a chorus of discontented voices in unison cannot be ignored. It could be a group of neighbours affected by pollution from a nearby backyard factory or a community of affected fisherfolk, estate workers, farmers or villagers.

So besides representing the individual consumer, we help communities, especially those in the rural areas, articulate problems affecting their livelihood and living conditions by providing counselling, education programmes and legal advice.

CAP’s work in these situations usually begins with a request from the locals to help with a community crisis. It could be pollution from a nearby factory killing their crops or catch; lack of basic facilities like piped water or electricity; or a development scheme driving them off the land. CAP’s Rural Section staff will help the community to organise themselves, for example, into an action committee headed by local leaders. In getting the people to present their grievances and problems to the authorities, CAP will help them prepare surveys, collect evidence and write the petition. We will help arrange for meetings with government authorities and companies concerned, and prepare for briefings and interviews with the press.

Sometimes in the process of seeking redress, legal action becomes a necessity. Until last year, there was a CAP’s Legal Centre working closely with the Complaints and Rural Sections is, which provides legal advice and representation to complainants. This Centre handled public interest cases and represented individuals and communities in need of legal assistance but who were unable to afford the heavy legal fees. One example is the Legal Centre’s victory in its application to stop moneylenders from using the small claims procedure in the magistrates’ court to collect debts. This case is an important victory for the public because until then moneylenders had been using the small claims procedure to sue borrowers as it incurs less cost, time and hassle.

At the same time CAP helps publicise consumer rights issues by holding press conferences. We also send many press releases and letters to national newspapers, both on issues relating to individual complainants and on issues arising from our own research. We also publicise the issues in our own newspaper, Utusan Konsumer (in four languages), and in books, pamphlets and posters.

An example of CAP’s success in campaigning for and publicising issues is in the area of pyramid-selling and direct sales. Since 1976 we have regularly highlighted cases of consumers being cheated in these get-rich-quick schemes. Our efforts finally paid off when the then Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (now known as the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism) moved to protect consumers with the Direct Sales Act 1993 and the Consumer Protection Act 1999.

Looking beyond the complaints

CAP is not content with just winning redress nor do we stop at obtaining satisfactory results in consumer complaints. We take the matter of public interest further by lobbying for better consumer laws and government policies, and for better enforcement of existing consumer legislation. The process is long and arduous and often takes many years but our efforts have not been fruitless. Better laws are introduced as in the case of direct sales. But sometimes such action doesn’t take so long to bear fruit. For instance, legislation to control pawnbrokers swindling their debt-ridden customers came two years after CAP’s first appeal to the government. Legislation protecting the country’s environment and controlling pollution from palm oil mills and rubber factories also came after two years of CAP’s lobbying.

CAP also pushes for legislative changes and enforcement of rights by lobbying and by publicising issues. In-depth and on-going studies of important issues, which draw on raw data obtained from complaints received by CAP and the results of tests and surveys, are written up in memoranda and reports. They are then submitted to the authorities concerned, arguing for legislative changes. In this, CAP has succeeded to a remarkable degree.

Some products reported by CAP to be harmful have been withdrawn and banned. For example in 1986, the Drug Control Authority of the Ministry of Health banned or restricted the sale of pharmaceutical drugs like dipyrone, amidopyrine, pizotifen, oxyphenbutazone, chloroform, antipyrine, phenacetin, cyproheptadine, and stanozolol. The following year, a few more were banned or restricted. This was done after CAP sent the Health Ministry detailed reports on the toxicity of these drugs.

More recently, the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism announced that the Hire-Purchase Act 1967 will be amended so that  banks or  motor credit companies need to get a court order in order to repossess a vehicle if  more than one-third of the monthly instalments have already  been made.  This is what CAP has recommended for many years.

CAP’s increased participation in high level policy-making activities means more dialogues with the authorities. Thus our policy recommendations are seriously considered. Through these activities CAP acts as a pressure on government authorities to establish and enforce better laws affecting consumers.

For example between 2000 and 2003, CAP actively contributed to the formulation of the proposed “General Consumer Code of Practice for Communications and Multimedia Industry.” As of today CAP is also involved in the revision of the very same Code.

To sum up, the rationale behind all of CAP’s activities is based on the concept “value for people”. As an organisation oriented toward social reform and consumer protection, CAP sees itself as an effective means and channel through which the individual and the community are able to exercise their rights to fight business malpractices, to press for fair and better services from both the public and private sectors, as well as to demand protection of these rights from the authorities.

CAP can help you, especially if you are from the disadvantaged or poorer section of society, if you cannot afford legal services, and if you are not articulate or confident enough to handle grievances on your own.

What are your rights?

You may not be aware of it but there‘s a wide range of laws to protect you, the consumer, from getting a bad deal. We look at some of the existing laws relevant to you in various aspects of your life — when you buy a product or a food item; when you buy something bigger like a house or a car on hire-purchase or insurance; when you contract a service, consult a professional like a lawyer or doctor, go on a holiday tour; when you rent a room or use public transport; when you get or leave a job; or if you have a neighbour who has converted his house into a noisy, dirty shop or factory.

While these laws provide the consumer with some protection, there are certain areas which are not well-regulated, giving the consumer few, if not no rights at all. In case of malpractice — for instance, in banking involving automated teller machines (ATMs) or in tenancy.

 

Why complain?

complaintIf you unpack your newly bought dress and find that it not the same as that advertised in the catalogue, would you complain?  Or if your brand new  toaster keeps burning your bread, would you complain? Or would you have kept quiet and done nothing?
 
If you don’t like complaining you are quite normal. As consumers, we Malaysians have traditionally been a docile lot.( but that is fortunately changing). When we buy something that is defective or contract a service that turns out to be unsatisfactory, we get angry with ourselves and not with the manufacturer or tradesman. We call it bad luck and blame it on fate. But we do not complain. Why?

Maybe our background and upbringing could provide the answer. At home we were taught that it was “not nice”, even impolite, to complain. Even if we were tempted to complain, there was still the fear that we would suffer a loss of face should we speak up and then fail to win redress. So it is often easier to let the matter drop.

Another obstacle is the sense of cynicism that many of us hold. We have accepted that it is futile to complain. What is the use of complaining, we think, when our protests will invariably go unheeded? As we are only insignificant individuals, how can we affect anything? But if everyone were to think like that, nothing would ever change for the better.

Consumer laws often owe their existence to conscientious people who took the trouble to complain. A good example is the Consumer Protection 1999 which was born as a result of consumer grouses. Inadequate laws may also get amended when enough consumer complaints reveal their weaknesses.

You don’t need to display flashy credentials and a good education to be qualified to complain. All you need is the determination to make yourself heard. Until you, the consumer, find a voice, the interests of the manufacturer, the businessman and the bureaucrat will tend to override your interests.

Remember, making a complaint is a step forward in improving things for ourselves. Even if the matter is slight or the sum involved is not large, complaining successfully will give you a sense of satisfaction, of not being exploited. Not only is complaining a matter of principle, it may very well save other consumers from suffering the same fate.

You may be sick of being “had” by businesses that take your money without fulfilling their part of the deal. Or you may be dissatisfied that the rubbish bins and drains in your streets are overflowing and not being cleared, that the river nearby is being polluted by a factory. How long are you going to put up with this state of affairs? Wouldn’t you like to receive better treatment in life and better services or goods? If your answer is yes, then start complaining.

In 2009, CAP received about 1,403  complaints and 1,779 telephone calls mostly asking for advice. Complaints that range from clogged drains breeding mosquitoes to being cheated by door-to-door salesmen, from non-payment of EPF by an employer to insufficient compensation in an insurance claim.

CAP informs you of your rights and how to how to ensure that they are honoured.

 

Excuses, excuses

Though more people are now willing to complain when they feel injustice has been done, they are still a minority.
Many choose to avoid going back to the restaurant that served stale food or stop patronising the local sundry shop whose weighing machine has been tampered with.

Below are some of the excuses people give for not complaining.

“It is not worth the trouble.”

Complaining can take much less time than you think. It may be just a letter to dash off or a trip back to the shop. So even if it is only a bar of chocolate infested with worms, it is worth it because complaining means that you are standing up for your rights. You are also making businessmen, government departments or whoever you are complaining against more accountable to consumers.

“I don’t want to make a fuss, it will be too embarrassing.”

Of course if you complain to the waiter about the fly in your soup, it will attract the attention of other diners. But, think, whose fault is it? Why should you feel embarrassed when it is the restaurant that should be embarrassed about serving customers food not fit for consumption?

Complaining is about making them — not yourself — feel bad.

“I have thrown away the receipt”; “the small print says that the company cannot be held liable” or that “goods sold are not returnable”

If you bought something which does not work you should be compensated irrespective of whether or not you still have the receipt or what the small print says.

Remember that possession of a receipt is not a legal requirement for getting redress. However, though you are not legally obliged to show a receipt, you could try to give some form of proof that you bought that product at that shop. For example, your friend was with you at the time; or a shop assistant may recall your visit; you may have a cheque stub; or a particular brand name or trader’s name found on the item can be traced to the shop. However, many shops may reconsider and offer you redress, to maintain your goodwill and your future patronage even though you have no receipt to show.

If the product you bought is defective, the shop has no right to disclaim liability when you ask for a refund or exchange despite any printed notices or signs.

If common sense tells you that what happened to you should not have happened to a consumer, do not hesitate to complain.

 

How to make an effective complaint

Now that you know your legal rights as a consumer, how do you go about redressing your grievance? In this part, we show you how to state your case clearly, and how to deal with the other party’s evasive tactics. In addition, we show you how to seek legal redress using the small claims court where you don’t need legal representation.

Principles to follow

You may feel dissatisfied about some newly bought but defective product or unhappy with some badly performed service. But before you rush back to the shop to complain, ask yourself the following:

  •  What precisely are you complaining about? It mustn’t be some vague dissatisfaction that you can’t put your finger on. Instead it has to be something specific that you can spell out.
  •  Is it really not your fault? Are you sure you followed the instructions correctly?
  •  Is the law on your side? If you are still unsure, check with the nearest branch of the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism or CAP.

When you can answer “Yes” to all the above questions, then you can proceed.

What are the steps to take?

  •  Gather all the relevant facts and evidence about your complaint: the whys, hows and whens. Evidence could include a receipt of a purchase, a brochure, confirmatory invoice, an advertisement, estimates and bills or a photograph of a botched-up repair service. If you have witnesses, get their names and addresses. If necessary, get written evidence or a report from an independent expert in the field concerned. If your complaint involves the neighbourhood, you could get your neighbours involved. Complain as soon as possible. If you delay, you might lose some of your rights.
  •  Follow the proper procedure: Try to find out first the proper channel or procedure for your particular problem. Save your complaint for the right person. By complaining to the wrong authority or body or even someone too senior, for example, you may find your complaint ignored or misdirected. On the other hand, there is no point attacking a junior staff member such as the receptionist, telephonist or shop assistant who has no power to resolve your problem. Where defective goods are concerned, in some firms an individual shop manager may not have the authority to resolve a complaint by giving a refund and he may have to contact his head office. However, it’s best to start with the shop where you bought the goods. If you start by complaining to the head office, they will often refer you back to the shop.
  • Record your verbal complaint: A simple matter can sometimes be settled by speaking to a manager or supervisor. However, should you wish to complain in person or by telephone, make sure you keep a record of what was said, as well as the date and time, the name and designation of the person you spoke to.
  •  If your complaint concerns a product bought at a shop, you should gather together any receipts, credit card slips, cheque stubs or other documents that show you bought the product from that particular shop, when you bought it and how much you paid. Take the faulty item with you, if it is easily portable, when you visit the shop. But do not give back the original documents to the seller until your complaint has been satisfactorily dealt with. You may need them later on if you decide to take further action against the seller. If the goods are not easily portable, first telephone or go back to the shop with all the appropriate documents.
  •  Be persistent: Don’t take no for an answer, especially if you know you have the law on your side. If you don’t get a response to your first letter within two weeks or so, or if you get a politely worded brush-off, send another letter to the same person, referring to the first letter. Say that you have had no response or that the response was unsatisfactory. Then say that unless the matter can be speedily resolved, you will take the complaint further to the authorities concerned. But remember if you have to reply to a letter from the firm or head office, you should give their reference, if a reference number, initials or name is given.
  •  Publicity is your weapon: If your complaint is justified and the other party is behaving obnoxiously, it does not mean that you will have to take your case to court. That process will be costly and will take a long time. You have one weapon which can be very effective and that is publicity. Companies spend millions building up an image and they will be loathe to have it tarnished. Complaining to the Press will get the companies’ attention as well as that of other consumers who have suffered the same fate. The complaint that you are making today will force companies and manufacturers to be more accountable to consumers tomorrow.