Government to hold public consultation on proposed changes to consumer protection laws

People browsing at level 4 of Sim Lim Square. Proposed changes to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act may strengthen measures taken against errant retailers who close their shops and secretly reopen them under a different name.
People browsing at level 4 of Sim Lim Square. Proposed changes to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act may strengthen measures taken against errant retailers who close their shops and secretly reopen them under a different name.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - Errant retailers who close their shops and secretly reopen them under a different name may be charged with a criminal offence, if proposed changes to consumer protection laws here take effect.

Government agency Spring Singapore may also be the first entity with the power - under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act - to investigate and take enforcement action against retailers who persist in unfair practices.

And businesses and individuals who have injunctions taken up against them may have to publicise the court order, so consumers are aware of who the black sheep are.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) will hold a public consultation to gather feedback on these proposed changes to the Act from May 16 to June 15.

Currently, aggrieved consumers can approach the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) or the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to seek redress. Both agencies, however, do not have investigation and enforcement powers under the Act.

What they can do is help consumers negotiate with retailers, arrange for mediation, invite retailers to sign an agreement to stop their unfair practices, or take up an injunction - a court order to stop the retailer from continuing with unfair practices.

Under the proposed changes, should negotiation, mediation and/or voluntary compliance agreements have no effect, recalcitrant shop owners will be referred to Spring for further investigations.

Spring, a statutory board under MTI, will be able to gather evidence for its injunction bids by, for instance, entering premises - with or without a warrant - to search for and seize documents and goods.

Errant retailers may also be required by the courts to notify customers about their injunction orders, such as by printing a notice on its invoices. They may also be ordered to alert Spring when there are changes to their entities - such as a change in their shop's address - or employment status. If they fail to comply, they may be charged with contempt of court, a criminal offence.

Case said it strongly supports MTI's move to review the Act.

"Our hands were tied two years ago, when we were unable to take further action against the errant retailers located at Sim Lim Square, who were engaging in rampant unfair practices towards consumers," said Case president Lim Biow Chuan.

"Case, STB and Spring will work together to ensure that businesses engaging in unfair practices will be dealt with according to law and that consumers will be able to obtain fair recourse."