Let the buyer beware!
If you undertake to pay to attend a public weekend workshop on herbalism or a two week course on Wicca, examine the offer carefully before paying any deposit fee.
A supplier (in this instance, the person offering a course in any particular subject) is permitted to ask the consumer (in this instance, the person intending to attend a course) for a deposit in order to secure your position at a seminar in advance.
Prior to April 2009, such deposits were generally non-refundable if the booking was cancelled in advance for any reason.
Since April 2009 however, according to the South African Consumer Protection Act (No 68 of 2008), depending on the nature and circumstances, a supplier is permitted to charge a cancellation fee when the booking is cancelled.
The cancellation fee has to be a ‘fair amount’. Although the Act does not specify how much a fair refund should be, it would be reasonable to assume a fair cancellation fee for a non-tertiary course to be no more than one third of the amount of the deposit paid.
As a consumer, you also have certain rights and you are entitled to enforce these rights. The Consumer Protection Act allows you the right to choose your product, including the right to cancel any advanced order, bookings or reservation. Keep in mind however that there is no general right of return unless specified by a warranty or prior contractual agreement.
If the supplier refuses to refund a paid deposit, or claims the full paid deposit as a cancellation fee, even though you have a valid reason (such as illness or other incapacity) for not being able to attend the event you have paid in advance for, you are entitled to request that the matter be reconsidered or reviewed.
Unless however you can prove that your cancellation was more than simply a change of heart, whether due to an argument between yourself and the supplier prior to the event, or a sudden lack of faith in the supplier’s bone fides, sincerity or ethical standards, it is unlikely that you will be able to force the supplier to honour the legal principle of fair refund.
It would be an entirely different matter if you had paid in full for a course that you never received, through no fault of your own, but due solely to the negligence of the supplier to provide you with what was promised in exchanged for the fee.
As a consumer, you have the right to protection against false, misleading or deceptive representation. Suppliers are not permitted to provide false, deceptive or misleading representations regarding services they offer.
Before you commit to paying for any course, do your homework. Find out more about the person offering the course. Speak to people who have already completed a course with the supplier and determine whether or not the supplier is ethical, honest and sincere. Before you pay a deposit, ascertain whether or not the supplier will honour a refund should you change your mind, or be unable to attend. Be scrupulous!
If you are a supplier who offers short introductory courses to others for a fee, remember, your reputation depends entirely on your own just dealings with those who pay you for a service. Be fair!
SAPRA ‘Your Rights’ Resource