Protective products suppliers warned to stop unnecessary price hikes

THE National Consumer Commission (NCC) had warned that any supplier of COVID-19 protective items, who had increased prices unreasonably, would be dealt with accordingly.

This harsh warning came after it transpired that a pharmacy had increased prices of hand sanitisers by 114%. The case against the supplier in question had already been reported to the Consumer Tribunal for prosecution.

The Commission had apparently been inundated with complaints from consumers against several suppliers throughout the country.  Consumer Acting Commissioner, Thezi Mabuza, said following the declaration of the National State of Disaster by President Cyril Ramaphosa, many suppliers increased prices of goods and services essential to curbing COVID-19.

Referring to the pharmacy, Mabuza said, “the supplier in question increased the price of a 25liter hand sanitiser from R990 (the price charged in December 2019) to R2745.00 (on March 24), a profit of more than 114%”.  Mabuza also said the Commission had reasonable proof that the supplier had engaged in unfair, unreasonable, unjust or improper conduct by sharply increasing their prices, in contravention of the provisions of Regulations 350 as gazetted by Minister Patel on March 19, calling it harsh behaviour towards consumers.

She said the commission had made an application to the tribunal seeking that among other penalties, the supplier provided a full refund to the affected consumers, over and above paying a fine amounting to R1Million.

She said the commission would also be filing more issues at the tribunal concerning other pharmacies.  These had allegedly sold facial masks marked up by between 200% to 500% in price.

Another supplier increased the price of FFP1 masks by 667.72% even before sourcing it at increased prices. The supplier last sourced the masks in January, but increased their prices following a higher demand. “We have also investigated and finalised an investigation against a pharmacy which made a profit of between 200% to 400% on different goods like hand sanitisers, antiseptic liquid and face masks,” Mabuza added.

During the first week of lock down, most complaints were received about price increases in products ranging from hand sanitisers, facial and dust masks, hand gloves and in some cases, even flour.

“We will take stern actions against suppliers who infringe regulation 350. Our mandate is to protect consumers and customers from unfair, unreasonable, unjust or improper commercial practice during the national disaster. We believe that vulnerable consumers are hit hard as the cost of their food basket increases” Mabuza concluded.

To file a complaint, call the NCC’s on its toll-free number is 0800 014 880 or on (012) 428 7000 (during office hours).