More mediated disputes resolved, says Case

More consumers are settling monetary disputes with businesses through mediation, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

Case's mediation centre handled more of such disputes last year. It mediated 190 cases last year, up from 125 in 2014, 146 in 2013 and 147 in 2012.

The number of resolved cases also rose from 94 in 2014 to 145 last year, with the resolution rate for mediated cases rising from 75.2 to 76.3 per cent over the same period, said the consumer watchdog.

Case president Lim Biow Chuan said this was encouraging as it shows that more consumers and businesses are willing to explore alternative ways to solve disputes instead of going to court.

With mediation by Case, "each party is able to have a greater say in the negotiations and more control over the outcome of the mediation", said Mr Lim.

He added: "Furthermore, all mediation cases and settlements will be kept confidential at the end of each session and are out of the public eye."

The amount Case helped to recoup for consumers dipped by 0.4 per cent to $438,121 last year, from $439,701 in 2014.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon attributed this to possibly more prudent consumer spending habits after numerous business closures over the past few years.

The sector with the most cases mediated last year was the contractor industry, followed by the beauty and car sectors. In 2014, the car sector was No.1.

Complaints against the beauty industry were mainly about aggressive selling tactics and ineffective treatments, while the top grouse against the car sector was about defects in cars purchased.

Complaints related to the contractor industry were generally about delays in work completion and poor workmanship.

Mr Edward Tan, executive director of the Renovation and Decoration Advisory Centre, which was set up by Case in 1986, said such disputes could arise due to a "mismanagement of expectations".

He encouraged homeowners to do the necessary research before hiring contractors.

Mr Tan said mediation is preferred to legal action in renovation disputes, primarily because it is cheaper and less time consuming.

He said legal fees could be around $3,000 to $10,000, and court proceedings could take up to a year, while mediation costs less than $1,000 and takes a month to six weeks. "Mediation is more amiable. There's no judgment being placed on anyone," he added.

The electronics industry had the largest increase in mediated cases, from seven in 2014 to 18 last year.

A mediated dispute that saw the highest amount of money recovered involved a woman who bought an electrolysis health machine for $25,600. She agreed to pay a deposit and the rest in instalments over the next two years.

A month later, she was diagnosed with diabetes and became unsuited to use the machine. But the full sum for the machine had already been deducted from her credit card.

The woman went to Case for mediation after she failed to negotiate with the seller. She was eventually refunded $22,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'More mediated disputes resolved, says Case'. Print Edition | Subscribe