The Turks and Caicos Islands (“TCI”) Consumer Protection Ordinance (the “CPO”) is a relatively new development and advancement in the laws of the TCI.
The CPO was first introduced in 2016 and then later amended in 2019. The primary objective of the legislation is the protection of consumers in the procurement of goods and services in the TCI. The CPO provides for the appointment of a Director of Consumer Affairs (the “Director”) with a variety of duties and responsibilities, including inter alia: (1) receiving complaints; (2) conducting investigations with respect to consumer complaints and consumer goods; (3) developing organizations for the promotion of consumer protection; and (4) providing and delivering consumer education.1 The CPO also permits the Director to appoint a certain number of officers and inspectors to assist in investigations and the administration of the ordinance.2
Consumer Complaints Process
The Director under the CPO receives complaints in respect of any consumer protection matters which have arisen during the course of the acquisition of goods and/or services by a consumer.3 Upon receipt of a complaint the Director must determine whether or not to continue with an investigation.4 In the event that the Director determines an investigation is warranted they shall proceed with an investigation. During the investigation the Director and/or their investigators or officers shall have certain powers of inspection, including the right to summons persons to produce or give evidence in support of the investigation.5
Upon conclusion of an investigation the Director shall make an order for a services or goods provider cease any misleading, deceptive or unfair practices. The order may prohibit such conduct, direct the negotiation and settlement of the dispute or alternatively put forward an arrangement to be signed by the parties settling the grievance.6
Consumer Protection Appeal’s Tribunal
The CPO allows for the creation of a Consumer Protection Appeals Tribunal (the “Tribunal”) which shall consist of Chair and three tribunal members. Members and the chair shall not be appointed for a period exceeding three years.7 Any person “aggrieved” by a decision of the Director in refusing to conduct an investigation, discontinuing an investigation or making an Order pursuant to section 13 of the CPO may appeal to the Tribunal within 14-days of notice of the decision they are aggrieved by.8 The Tribunal may then make a decision affirming the decision, ordering the Director to undertake an investigation or continue their investigation, or alternatively make any order they see fit.9
Consumer Safety and Remedies
The CPO provides the Minister responsible for Consumer Affairs with certain responsibilities over “Consumer Safety”. These responsibilities include generally the ability to restrict, prohibit and regulate the importation of goods10 and to recall goods that may cause injury to consumers.11
The CPO also directs and regulates the details and information that must be provided to consumers on each and every transaction for goods, including origin, price, terms, components, hazards, proper use and assembly. Consumers must further be provided with the opportunity to measure those goods, as required and/or needed and a receipt must always be given with specific details. A failure on the part of a business or individual to accord with these provisions may result in a summary conviction and fine of $5000.12
Warranties both express and implied for goods and services are also regulated in terms of consumer protection within the CPO, in that warranties shall be express, and when provided on goods distributed within the TCI, they shall be applicable to the islands.13 Remedies and damages resulting from the use of goods and services (resulting in harm, damage to goods, return of defective goods) are also covered under the CPO and in cases where damage has been caused by a provider to a consumer has arisen, and a claim substantiated by a consumer, compensation shall be owed by the provider to consumer.14
Misleading and Deceptive Conduct
Importantly, for consumers and providers alike the CPO provides consumer protection against misleading and deceptive conduct. Providers shall not undertake in the course of business or trade “misleading or deceptive conduct” that is likely to “mislead or deceive” a consumer. They shall further not make an unconscionable “representation”, engage in unconscionable “conduct”, “mislead” the public, or make a “false, misleading or deceptive representation” in respect of consumer products and services.15
Enforcement and Offences under the CPO
The Director or inspectors appointed under the CPO have powers to enforce the CPO. Inspectors for example, may direct that a provider present goods for the purpose of testing. Inspectors may also enter premises and seize goods for the purpose of fulfilling their investigation of complaints.16 Obstructing an inspector in fulfilment of their duties is an offence under the CPO subject to a fine of $10,000 or to a term of imprisonment of six months.
Awareness and Understanding
Businesses and sole proprietors which provide for goods and/or services in the TCI should be mindful of the CPO. Consumer rights and the ability to make complaints with respect to goods and/or services provided shall be upheld by the Director and the impact that complaints, investigations and orders made under the CPO will have on an otherwise thriving business will be deleterious.
If you or your business is the subject of complaint and investigation or if you are considering appealing a decision of a Director to the Tribunal, Griffiths & Partners can assist. We have experience guiding companies through regulatory investigations, handling consumer protection issues and providing comprehensive and straightforward legal advice that will prevent and mitigate against harm and unnecessary interference with your businesses.
1Section 4, Consumer Protection Ordinance 2016 (Ordinance 27 of 2016) (“CPO”).
2Section 4, CPO.
3Section 7, CPO.
4Section 8, CPO.
5Section 10, CPO.
6Section 10, CPO.
8Section 14, CPO.
9Section 15, CPO.
10Section 16, CPO.
11Section 17, CPO.
12Sections 22 – 24, CPO.
13Section 25, CPO.
14Section 26-28, CPO.
15Sections 33-35, CPO.
16Sections 42-43, CPO.
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