Your Consumer Rights in Singapore and How to Get Recourse
If you have been duped by a supplier, who perhaps lied about the authenticity of a product to get you to buy it, look no further – this article will explain the rights you have as a consumer in Singapore, and how you can get a remedy.
You are a consumer if you purchase something from a supplier – for example, when you buy clothes or food, you are considered a consumer. You are also considered a consumer if you enter into a regulated contract (discussed below).
What Rights Do Consumers have in Singapore?
There are multiple rights that consumers have in Singapore, namely:
- Right for repair, replacement or refund of defective products
- Right to cancel direct sales contracts and other regulated contracts
- Right to sue for unfair practices
Right for repair, replacement or refund of defective products
Singapore has a “lemon law” which allows for consumers to make a claim for the repair, replacement or refund of a defective product within 6 months of purchasing the product.
You can find more information on Singapore’s lemon law in our other article.
Right to cancel direct sales contracts and other regulated contracts
Consumers generally have the right to cancel regulated contracts within 5 days of entering into a contract in order to receive a refund.
What are regulated contracts?
Regulated contracts generally refer to:
- Direct sales contracts
- Long-term holiday product contracts,
- Time-share contracts, or
- Time share-related contracts.
Direct sales contracts
Direct sales contracts are contracts entered into during an unsolicited visit. Unsolicited visits refer to instances where a seller makes contact with a consumer in any place apart from the seller’s own place of business or residence.
For example, if an insurance agent approaches you outside of a mall and sells you an insurance package, you have entered into a direct sales contract with the insurance agent.
Long-term holiday product contracts
A long-term holiday product contract refers to a contract between a seller and consumer whereby:
- The consumer acquires the right to obtain discounts for accommodation; and
- The contract has a duration of more than 1 year, or can be renewed or extended such that it has a duration of more than 1 year.
In general, these contracts refer to contracts made with holiday clubs, where consumers buy packages for vacationing in various locations at a discounted price.
A time-share contract is entered into when you decide to invest in a time-share scheme. A time-share scheme is one that allows you to live in a vacation property (such as a resort or condominium) for specific periods of time every year, depending on the terms of your contract.
Time share-related contracts
A time-share related contract refers to a contract that assists a consumer in disposing time-share rights that they currently own. For example, if you have invested in a time-share scheme but no longer wish to use the vacation property, you could enter into a contract to sell your timeshare to someone else.
If you are unsure about whether the contract you have entered into is a regulated one, you can check with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) or consult a lawyer.
What Happens If a Regulated Contract is Cancelled?
When a regulated contract is cancelled, there are several things that will happen, namely:
- The contract will no longer be enforceable, which means that if for example, if you had a time-share contract, you would no longer need to pay for the timeshare, and will also be unable to stay at the vacation property.
- Any money that you have paid to the supplier as per your contract will be repaid to you within 60 days after you have given notice of the cancellation of contract to the supplier.
- You, or any person on your behalf, will have a lien on any items that you were given in exchange for your money. This simply means that you have the right to keep the item that you received from the supplier until the supplier returns you the money that you paid them.
- If you had provided the supplier with security, such as a bank guarantee or through depositing jewellery with the supplier for them to sell if you were unable to pay, then the security would be treated as void. Any property being held by the supplier solely for the purposes of security will be returned to you within 60 days after you have given notice of the cancellation of contract to the supplier.
- Any additional contract between you and the supplier for the purposes of facilitating your regulated contract will also no longer be enforceable.
For direct sales contracts specifically, if you received the goods that you purchased via the contract prior to the cancellation, then you will be under a duty to return the goods to the supplier once the supplier has returned you your money. Before you return the goods to the supplier, you will also have to take reasonable care of them.
Note that you will not be under a duty to return the following types of items:
- Perishable items, such as fruits and meats,
- Consumable goods that were consumed before the cancellation,
- Good supplied to meet an emergency, such as face-masks during a pandemic, or
- Goods which, before the cancellation, had been incorporated into land or in something else not listed in the contract, such as a statue that was permanently fixed onto your land before the contract was cancelled.
In addition, when you cancel a contract, you will also be under a duty to pay a reasonable compensation for services supplied under the contract before the cancellation. This means that if prior to your cancelling of the direct sales contract the supplier had carried out useful tests such as checking your blood pressure, then you would have to compensate them for the service provided.
What is the Timeframe for Cancelling a Regulated Contract?
As mentioned above, you, as a consumer, have the right to cancel a regulated contract within 5 days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays) whichever is the later of:
- The day that the you entered into the contract; or
- The day on which the Consumer Information Notice (CIN) was brought to your attention.
A CIN is a notice that states that you have a right to cancel a contract and specifies the name of the supplier as well any designated persons to whom a notice of cancellation should be given.
Where the contract was a long-term holiday contract and information related to benefits such as discounts, as well as the means of accessing this information, such as a password, were not provided to you when you entered into the contract, then you would have the right to cancel the contract within 5 days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays) whichever is the earlier of either:
- The day on which the information was provided to you; or
- The day on which the means of accessing the information, was provided to you.
What is the Procedure for Cancelling a Regulated Contract?
To cancel a regulated contract, you will first have to give the supplier a notice of cancellation. This notice can either be written in:
- The form given under the Second Schedule of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) (Cancellation of Contracts) Regulations (CPFTCC Regulations), or
- Some other format, but clearly stating your intention to cancel the contract under the CPFTCC Regulations.
Once the notice is written, you will have to pass it to the person designated in the CIN. You can do this by:
- Delivering the notice personally to him/her;
- Leaving the notice at the address specified in the CIN, or sending it to the address by pre-paid post;
- Sending it via fax.
If you had not received a CIN, or the CIN you received does not contain any information regarding the designated persons or addresses, then your notice of cancellation can be given by leaving at, or by sending it by pre-paid post to either:
- The usual, or last known address of the designated person (if any) or of the supplier’s place of business; or
- In the case of a company, the registered office of the supplier or of the designated person (if any).
If a supplier agrees to accept notice of cancellation by any other means, such as via email, you may give notice by the means that you both have agreed upon.
What if the supplier refuses to accept the cancellation/does not provide a refund?
If the supplier does not accept your cancellation, there are several things you can do, such as negotiate with the supplier directly, lodge a complaint with CASE, or perhaps sue in the Small Claims Tribunals. These options will be discussed in further detail below.
Right to Sue for Unfair Practices
What is considered an unfair practice?
Under section 4 of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, an unfair practice is one where a supplier:
- Does or says anything, or omits to do or say anything, reasonably causing for the consumer to be deceived or misled;
- Makes a false claim;
- Takes advantage of a consumer knowing that the consumer is either unable to protect his own interests, or is unable to reasonably understand the character, nature, language or effect of the transaction.
Reasonably causing for consumer to be misled
If, for example, a supplier omits the important fact that the remote control you are buying runs on very rare and expensive batteries, this could be considered an unfair practice since you would have been reasonably misled to believe that the remote control was a regular one.
You could also, for example, be reasonably misled if a supplier says that his products are selling at a discounted price for a “3 days only” despite him knowing that the discount will last for another 2 months.
Making a false claim
A false claim involves a supplier giving a consumer information that he knows is false.
For example, if a sporting goods supplier says that his products have been approved by or are affiliated with a well-known brand such as Nike, when they are in fact not affiliated with Nike, then this would clearly be a false claim.
A false claim could also involve a supplier stating that their goods or services are of a very high standard or quality, when they are in fact, not.
Taking advantage of a consumer
This could happen if, for example, a supplier targets an elderly person suffering from dementia and charges an exorbitant price for an ordinarily cheap item.
Due to the elderly person being unable to protect his own interests or to understand the nature of the transaction, the supplier’s act would be considered an unfair practice.
“Taking advantage” could also occur if, for example, a supplier of health-related products purposely frightens a lady, whom he knows to be extremely anxious about her health, into buying his supplements by stating that people who do not ingest his supplements often die at a younger age than those who do.
What can consumers get out of suing for an unfair practice?
If you sue for an unfair practice in the Small Claims Tribunals, you could get the following remedies:
- An order for the supplier to pay you a sum of money;
- A work order for the supplier to, for example,repair your damaged item; or
- Any ancillary order necessary to give effect to any order made by the tribunal
If you sue for unfair practice in other courts, such as the District, Magistrates’ or High courts, you could get the following remedies:
- An order for restitution of any money, property or other payments that you gave to the supplier,
- Damages in the amount of any loss or damage that you suffered due to the unfair practice,
- An order of specific performance against the supplier, (which means that if the supplier promised to do a service for you but did not, the court may instruct them to do the service through this order)
- An order directing the supplier to repair your goods, or
- An order to vary the contract between you and the supplier (for example, by lowering the price you have to pay to the supplier).
How to sue for unfair practices
You can sue for unfair practices in the Small Claims Tribunals, or in the District, Magistrates’ or High Court depending on the type of remedy you would like to claim from the supplier (see below)..
How can consumers get recourse?
There are several ways for you to get recourse for unfair practices, or if the supplier does not accept your notice of cancellation and refuses to provide a refund. You could:
- Try to negotiate with the supplier directly;
- Lodge a complaint with CASE;
- (Only applicable to tourists) Lodge a complaint with the Singapore Tourist Board (STB);
- Sue in the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT); or
- Sue in the District, Magistrates’ or High Court.
Negotiating with the supplier directly
In general, you should begin by negotiating with the supplier directly, as businesses may be willing to work out a deal with you to avoid the hassle of legal action. However, if the supplier refuses to cooperate, you may consider the following options instead.
Lodging a complaint with CASE
CASE is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that aims to protect consumers’ interests and promote fair trading.
CASE can help you in 2 ways:
- (For CASE members) Assigning a Consumer Relations Officer (CRO) to your case and having them correspond with the supplier on your behalf
- (For non-CASE members) Assisting you in drafting a letter
Assigning a CRO to your case
Before you can have a CRO assigned to your case, you will have to register as a CASE member. There are costs associated with this – for example if you would like an ordinary membership for one person, you will have to pay $26.75 per year. You can find out more about the associated costs here.
Once you have registered as a member, the CRO will negotiate with the supplier on your behalf to work out a deal. If the negotiation does not result in a favourable resolution, the CRO will then advise you further on your other available options.
Assistance in drafting a letter
If you do not want to register as a CASE member, you could pay an administrative fee of $10.70 for CASE to help you draft a letter to the supplier, to reach an amicable settlement.
This letter would detail your concerns, such as how you were misled by the supplier, as well as the recourse you would like to receive.
You will have to deliver this letter to the supplier personally. CASE will not be able to help you further, so you will have to follow up on the matter on your own.
You can lodge the complaint with CASE online, or in person.
If you would prefer to lodge the complaint in person, you can do so at the CASE office. You will have to bring the following documents with you:
- Identity Card/Work Permit/Employment Pass/Student Pass/Dependant’s Pass
- All documents relevant to the dispute, such as receipts and contracts signed with the supplier
If you choose to lodge an online complaint, you can simply upload all the documents relevant to the dispute online. The online complaint form will also require you to enter part of your NRIC number – you do not need to scan your NRIC.
Every complaint that is lodged with CASE, whether online or in person, will be subject to administrative charges according to the amount you would like to claim from the supplier. The administrative fees, inclusive of GST, are as follows:
- Claims below $5000 – Fee of $10.70
- Claims from $5000 to $10,000 – Fee of $21.40
- Claims from $10,001 to $20,000 – Fee of $53.50
- Claims above $20,000 – Fee of $53.50 for every $10,000 or part thereof
(For tourists only) Lodging a complaint with STB
If you are a tourist who has been the victim of an unfair practice, or a supplier has refused to refund you despite your notice of cancellation, then you may lodge a complaint with STB.
STB is the first point of contact for tourists to handle complaints, and they will help you to work out a deal with the supplier through negotiation. You can reach STB in 2 ways:
- Via its phone hotline, at 1800-736-2000 (from Monday to Friday excluding Public Holidays) or
- Via email, at STB_Feedback@stb.gov.sg
Note that if you are a tourist, you may still lodge a complaint with CASE by visiting the CASE office with the following items:
- Your passport
- The original invoice/receipt of your purchase
- Any other supporting documents for your dispute (such as a contract, or a credit card bill)
Suing in the SCT
The SCT is a part of the State Courts of Singapore and provides a quick and more affordable way for consumers and suppliers to resolve their issues without the need for hiring a lawyer.
The SCT can hear a variety of cases, some of which can include:
- The sale of goods, such as when you purchase a product;
- The provision of services, such as when you engage the services of a plumber; and
- The cancellation of contracts under the CPFTCC Regulations.
Note that usually, the SCT only hears disputes involving claims up to $20,000. However, if both you and the supplier give consent, the SCT can hear claims up to $30,000.
You have to file your claim within 2 years from the occurrence of the unfair practice, or the earliest date when you could reasonably have discovered the unfair practice, whichever is later.
This means that, for example, if a supplier knowingly made a false claim by stating that you were purchasing an authentic diamond ring, when the diamond in the ring was actually an imitation one, you would have to sue within 2 years of finding out that the diamond was a fake.
You can find more information about suing in the SCT in our other article.
Suing in the District/Magistrate’s/High Court
If the SCT does not have the jurisdiction to hear your claim due to your claim exceeding $20,000, you can commence a civil suit in the District/Magistrate’s/High court to advance your claim.
In general, the claim limits for the various courts are as follows:
- Magistrate’s Court: $60,000
- District Court: $250,000
- High Court: Claims above $250,000
If you decide to commence a civil suit in any of these courts, you may want to engage a lawyer since the procedures involved in filing a civil suit are more complex than for suing in the SCT. The court fees you can expect to pay will also be higher.
If you have bought a product that turns out to be defective, you may want to refer to our other article for more specific information.
If you are the victim of an unfair practice, or your notice of cancellation has been rejected by a supplier, you may want to discuss your options with a lawyer.
A lawyer will be able to advise on you whether you should lodge a complaint, or whether you should sue in the SCT or at any of the other courts.
If you choose to sue in the District, Magistrate’s or High Courts, the lawyer could also represent you and assist in preparing your case in the strongest possible light.
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