Consumer Protection Act No. 68 of 2008: Keep it Plain and Simple

The Consumer Protection Act No. 68 of 2008 (“Act“) requires in terms of section 22 that all agreements, which fall within the application of the Act, must be written in plain and simple language.

The plain language provision applies to all notices, documents and visual representations in addition to all agreements.

The test of interpretation has to some extend shifted from want you say to what was heard.

In 2000, major banks in South Africa adopted the Code of Banking Practice (“Code“) voluntary which set out their relationship with customers.

Among other undertakings, the banks promised to:

  • make information available to customers about services and products in plain language and give assistance on any aspect which customers do not understand
  • ensure that all written terms and conditions are fair and clearly set out the customer’s rights and responsibilities in plain language
  • help customers to understand the basic financial implications of the bank’s products and services.

All the South African banks have successfully implemented the provisions of the Code.

The National Credit Act No. 34 of 2005 also requires all documents in terms of the Act to be in plain language. Section 64 also contains a definition of “plain language”:

Section 64 of the National Credit Act: Right to information in plain and understandable language

64 (1) The producer of a document that is required to be delivered to a consumer in terms of this Act must provide that document –

(a) in the prescribed form, if any, for that document; or

(b) in plain language.

(2) If no form has been prescribed for that document, for the purposes of this Act, a document is in plain language if it is reasonable to conclude that an ordinary consumer of the class of persons for whom the document is intended, with average literacy skills and minimal credit experience, could be expected to understand the content, significance, and import of the document without undue effort, having regard to –

(a) the context, comprehensiveness and consistency of the document;

(b) the organization, form and style of the document;

(c) the vocabulary, usage and sentence structure of the text; and

(d) the use of any illustrations, examples, headings ,or other aids to reading and understanding.

(3) The National Credit Regulator may publish guidelines for methods of assessing whether a document satisfies the requirements of subsection (l)(b).

Principles regarding plain language to keep in mind are the following:

  • Context
  • Comprehensiveness
  • Consistency
  • Logic structure and flow
  • Sentence structure
  • Headings
  • Illustrations
  • Simplicity
  • Conversational
  • Presentation

Plain language requirements are nothing new and were introduced in the United States years ago. On the lighter side read this article by Simon Fodder regarding Lawyers’ oaths and plain language.

Keep it plain and simple.

08 March 2011