Knowledge Highlights 19 October 2021
On 11 October 2021, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (“CCCS”) issued a press release on its website www.cccs.gov.sg regarding the State Courts’ order of 7 September 2021 which declared, among other things, that a sole proprietor (“sole proprietor”) trading under the business name “Fire Safety & Prevention (SG)” (“FSPSG”) had engaged in unfair trade practices under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (“CPFTA”) involving the supply of fire extinguishers.
CCCS made the application to the State Courts following an investigation which revealed that the sole proprietor or three of his ex-employees (“ex-employees”) had, in the course of selling fire extinguishers to consumers, engaged in unfair practices under the CPFTA. In March 2020, the Consumers Association of Singapore (“CASE”) published a consumer advisory alerting consumers to the unfair practices of certain suppliers of fire extinguishers, including FSPSG. Around the same time, CCCS commenced its investigations against FSPSG.
CCCS’s findings of unfair practices
Through its investigations of FSPSG, CCCS found that consumers were told that FSPSG was affiliated with or approved by the Singapore Government, the Singapore Civil Defence Force or various Community Centres to sell fire extinguishers, when it was not. Consumers were also informed that there was a new law or regulation requiring each household to own a fire extinguisher by a certain date, when there was no such law or regulation.
Consumers were initially quoted a price of S$17.90 for a fire extinguisher but were subsequently charged a higher amount of S$179. They were also given the impression that there were discounts for PAssion or NTUC cardholders, members of the Pioneer Generation or Singaporeans when there were no such discounts. CCCS also found that consumers were promised yearly free replacements or servicing of fire extinguishers purchased from FSPSG when, in fact, a replacement would only be provided if the relevant fire extinguisher had certain defects or was used under certain circumstances. Finally, CCCS found that consumers were told that the fire extinguishers sold by FSPSG were non-refundable when, in fact, consumers may cancel the purchase of such fire extinguishers and obtain a refund under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) (Cancellation of Contracts) Regulations 2009.
Consumers were approached through unsolicited door-to-door sales.
What the court ordered
The State Courts made the following orders:
- The sole proprietor trading as FSPSG was declared to have engaged in the unfair practices referred to above and was to stop engaging in any of these unfair practices and any unfair practices under the CPFTA.
- The ex-employees were to stop abetting or aiding FSPSG to engage in any of the unfair practices referred to above and any unfair practices under the CPFTA.
- Each of these individuals must, over the next two years from the date of the court order, notify CCCS if there are any changes relating to the status of their employment, directorship, partnership, and ownership of a business.
Handling door-to-door sales
CCCS has made available an infographic on its website which provides a snapshot of the unfair practices above and also set out some practical tips on handling door-to-door sales. For example, consumers should exercise caution when approached by anyone claiming to represent any government agency, and always check the final amount on the invoice or payment terminal before making payment. Consumers are also advised to be firm and turn down a salesperson if there is no intention to purchase the product or service. Lastly, CCCS reminded consumers that they have a right to cancel a direct (that is, unsolicited door-to-door) sales contract within five days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays) after the date on which the contract is entered into.