A consumer is a person who pays money to buys any good(s), or hires or avails of any services, or uses such goods or services even if he/she has not actually paid for them, when they have the approval of the person who actually paid for the goods or services (for example, even if someone gifted you a shirt, you would be a consumer).
Please note that the following may also file cases as consumers: central or state government; or any voluntary consumer association registered as society, not for profit companies.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 5th December, 1986 for the welfare of the public, to protect consumers from exploitation by the manufacturers and traders; and sub-standard or adulterated goods or services.
A consumer may file a consumer complaint in the Consumer Court (also called Consumer Forum) if:
- Any goods bought by him/her are found to be defective. For example: if you buy a watch which stops working, and give it to the seller for repair. If he does not repair it and the warranty period expires and now the seller refuses to repair, replace or refund the watch, you can file a complaint.
- Any services hired or availed by him/her are deficient. For example: if an insurance claim is not honored in time; or if a coaching institute fails to keep up to its promise; or in the case of medical negligence by medical professionals or hospitals.
- Any trader adopts unfair or restrictive trade practices. For example: advance fee charged by a coaching institute for the full duration of a course; hoarding of goods or refusal to sell to customers without genuine reasons; misrepresentation relating to the quality of the goods or services sold
- Excess price (more than what is fixed i.e. Maximum Retail price or MRP) is charged for any goods or services. For example: a shopkeeper charging more than the MRP on old stock of a goods on the ground that the price of new stock has increased.
There are different kinds of relief that the consumer court can award you. It could order the other party to:
- remove the defect or deficiencies from the goods or services in question
- replace the defective goods with non-defective goods
- return the money you paid for the goods or the service
- pay you compensation for any loss or injury that you may have suffered due to the negligence of the manufacturer or trader or service provider
- discontinue any unfair or restrictive trade practice that you have complained against
- withdraw any hazardous goods from the market
- provide for adequate costs for you
- pay you reasonable compensation for any monetary loss and mental agony and hardship
Usually, consumer courts will award reasonable compensation commensurate with the loss caused to you along with cost of litigation.
It may also award interest for any late payment of compensation.
Exemplary damages (i.e. very large sums to be paid to the consumer) are awarded by the court against the seller or the service provider in exceptional cases and mostly against large sellers/manufacturers/ service providers.
In almost all cases which show a genuine grievance and where compensation is fair, the Consumer Court orders the replacement of the goods or services or damages. Consumer Forums and Commissions also generally have a pro consumer approach.
In the recent case of HDFC Bank Limited v. Balwinder Singh, the State Commission awarded compensation of Rs 4 lakh to a consumer when a bank used muscleman to take repossession of a hypothecated vehicle. In the same case the National Commission also awarded exemplary damages of Rs 25,000.
Usually the case has to be filed where the company has its office, or carries on business. The case can also be filed wherever the cause of action wholly or partially arose. To read more, please see Cause of action: Can I file a consumer complaint where I live?
These agencies are Consumer Courts set up at the following levels:at district level- District Forum; at state level -StateCommissions; at national level -National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
The complaint will be filed before different Courts depending on the cost of goods or services and compensation claimed. So, if the cost of goods or services and compensation claimed is:
- up to Rs.20 lakh, the complaint should be filed with the concerned District Forum.
- above Rs. 20 lakh but less than one crore, the complaint should be filed with the State Commission.
- above Rs. one crore, the complaint should be filed with the National Commission (NCDRC).
No, the appointment of a lawyer is not compulsory. The complainant (consumer) can himself or through his representative file and represent his case.
Normally, a complaint is to be filed within two years from the date on which the cause for taking action arose. This is also called the limitation period. The cause of action is different for each case, but it would usually be when the deficiency in the goods or services actually started, or when you discovered it.
You or your authorized representative can file a case in the Consumer Court in person; or you can send the complaint (signed by you or your representative) by post to the appropriate Forum / Commission along with the court fee.
No, this is not necessary, although it is common practice to write to the seller/service provider, describing your complaint and asking for a replacement or compensation before you file the complaint.
A complaint should necessarily contain the following information:
- Your name and address
- The name, description and address of the opposite party or parties
- The facts relating to the complaint and when and where it arose
- Any documents which support the allegations contained in the complaint
- The relief which you are seeking
The value of goods, service & compensation (“VGC”) claimed determine the amount of fee payable which is to be deposited at the time of filing the complaint. The fee structure of consumer court is as follows:
Under District Forum Amount payable
- If VGC < Rs 1 lakh Rs. 100
- Rs.1 lakh ≤VGC < Rs 5 lakh Rs. 200
- Rs 5 lakh ≤ VGC < Rs 10 lakh Rs. 400
- Rs 10 lakh and above Rs. 500
Under State Commission
- Rs. 20 lakh ≤ VGC < Rs. 50 lakh Rs. 2000
- Rs. 50 lakh ≤ VGC < Rs. 1 crore Rs. 4000
Under National Commission
- Rs. 1 crore ≤ VGC Rs. 5000
The court fee is to be deposited at the time of filing the complaint. The payment should be made through a Nationalized Bank Demand Draft duly crossed, drawn in favor of:
“President, Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, (district name)” – For District Forum
“Registrar, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, _ (Name of the State)”– For State commission
“Registrar, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission” – For National Commission
Any person aggrieved by an order of any consumer court may file an appeal in the subsequent (higher) consumer commission within a period of thirty days from the date of theorder. A person aggrieved of the order of the National Commission can file an appeal to the Supreme Court of India.
File your consumer complaint here.