‘How are consumers protected when shopping online?’ & other law-related questions that you should know

Good to know.

Nigel Chua | Sponsored | October 01, 2020, 07:00 PM

In an ideal world, we will never get into traffic accidents, or pay for goods online, only to find them defective. However the world isn’t perfect, and if you were unlucky enough to find yourself in such situations, you might have wondered what recourse is provided for you under the law.

We take a look at a few everyday scenarios — from online shopping to getting injured when working from home — to see how we are protected under the law.

1. How does the law protect those who shop online?

The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) includes a section commonly known as the “lemon law”.

While the word “lemon” does not appear in the actual statute, consumer protection laws are commonly called “lemon law”, a convention said to have come from a slang term for deals gone sour. Photo via @mo_jito on unsplash.

Under the lemon law, consumers have legal rights against retailers, if products turn out to be defective, or different from what was promised.

The law even includes items indicated as non-refundable or “sold as it is” by the sellers.

Retailers must either repair the item, replace it, reduce the price, or provide a refund.

If they refuse, consumers can take legal action, such as making a claim through the Small Claims Tribunal.

With more shopping being done online in 2020, it is important to bear in mind that the lemon law applies to online retailers as well, although there are some unique aspects of how it applies to online sales, such as shipping costs and the types of transactions covered.

Shipping costs are to be covered by retailer

The lemon law states that, if a consumer requires repair or replacement, it must be done in “reasonable time and without causing significant inconvenience”.

The retailer is also required to pay for any labour, materials, and postage as well.

Brown paper packages taped up with tape. Photo via Claudio Schwarz on unsplash.

That being said, the law also says that if repair or replacement is “disproportionate” when compared to other options, such as discounting or refunding, consumers cannot demand that their items be repaired or replaced.

This means that you cannot expect an online retailer to repair a damaged item if the cost of shipping would be more than the cost of the product itself, for example.

But you might still be entitled to a full or partial refund of the money you paid for the product.

Consumer-to-consumer transactions not covered

The lemon law also covers secondhand goods.

But before you seal that deal for a “pre-loved” piece of clothing on Carousell, bear in mind that the lemon law does not apply to transactions between consumers.

It only applies to transactions between consumers and businesses.

2. If you are injured while working from home, can you get your employer to compensate you?

Work from home became more common than it ever was before, during the Circuit Breaker earlier this year.

With the threat of Covid-19 still looming, it looks set to remain a big part of most of our lives, as strict safe distancing measures are still required in offices that have reopened.

How would rules on compensation for injuries sustained while working apply to those telecommuting?

First of all, employers must compensate employees who are injured, or contract a disease, as a result of their work, under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA).

WICA covers “any local or foreign employee who is under a contract of service or contract of apprenticeship, regardless of salary, age or nationality”, according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

One of the scenarios covered by WICA is a traffic accident that occurs while travelling for work purposes (such as travel to or from a work meeting), provided that you did not make a detour to run personal errands.

Remember to wear your seatbelt. Photo via bady abbas on unsplash.

WICA applies to working from home as well, as clarified in Parliament, as well as on MOM’s website.

However, employees seeking to claim under WICA must be able to prove that their injuries arose while doing work at home, and not while they were doing activities not related to work.

3. Why is it important to write a will and a Lasting Power of Attorney?

Writing a will

It is generally recommended to write a will.

Writing a will not only simplifies the process for your family members, it also helps them to avoid certain legal fees, and allows you to determine how exactly you want your assets to be distributed among different family members, friends, and even charitable causes.

On the other hand, if you do not have a will, your assets must be distributed according to predetermined legal processes.

Under the Probate and Administration Act, a family member will have to navigate a process of applying to the court to obtain the legal documents necessary in order to distribute your assets.

Because this process can be complicated, it is common to engage a lawyer’s assistance, which involves the payment of the lawyer’s fees. This would reduce the amount of assets that can be distributed among your family members.

If the application is successful, the Singapore courts will then authorise a person (or persons) to administer your estate — that is, to distribute your assets.

However, this must be done in line with the Intestate Succession Act (for non-Muslims), which determines exactly how your assets are to be distributed.

For example, a surviving spouse would receive half of the estate, while the remainder is divided among the surviving children or their descendants. And if there are no children, the remainder is divided among the parents.

As for Muslims, inheritance matters are governed by the Administration of Muslim Law Act.

Lasting Power of Attorney

Many who write a will also create a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) at the same time.

A LPA is a legal document in which you authorise a person (known as a “donee”) to make decisions on your behalf, should you lose mental capacity one day.

You can choose whether the appointed donee is able to make decisions regarding your personal welfare, your property and affairs, or both.

What happens if you do not make an LPA?

Should you lose mental capacity due to illness or an accident, without a LPA, your family members will have to apply to the court in order to help to arrange your affairs.

This can be costly and time-consuming, as compared to the situation where you had created a LPA.

You can find out more about making a LPA via MSF’s website.

4. What happens when you end up bankrupt?

Bankruptcy is, for many, something to be avoided, and in light of the economic impact of Covid-19, bankruptcy law has been temporarily amended, with the passing of the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act.

You can be declared bankrupt if you are unable to repay your debts, and creditors can typically file to make you bankrupt if you are unable to repay a debt of S$15,000.

This threshold has now been temporarily raised to S$60,000.

Also, debtors who have a regular income and owe less than S$150,000 in debts can opt to join the Debt Repayment Scheme once a bankruptcy application is made. This scheme helps debtors to avoid going into bankruptcy. The threshold of S$150,000 has now been temporarily raised to S$250,000.

Once a person is declared a bankrupt, the High Court will appoint an Official Assignee, who is a public servant tasked with recovering the bankrupt's assets and distributing them to the creditors.

The bankrupt person must disclose all their assets and liabilities (such as private property, cash in bank accounts, insurance policies, inheritance, vehicles and company shares) to the Official Assignee.

These assets will be placed in a bankruptcy estate which will be used to pay off the bankrupt's debt. For Singapore citizens, however, HDB flats and CPF contributions, as well as certain insurance policies, are excluded.

The bankrupt will then be supervised in repaying their debts, and must contribute a portion of income known as a “target contribution” to the bankruptcy estate.

It is possible to have a positive bank balance and still be made bankrupt. Photo via Kelly Sikkema on unsplash.

Why is bankruptcy viewed as something to be avoided?

Aside from giving up your assets, being a bankrupt comes with several restrictions.

And these restrictions come with harsh punishments — either a fine, jail term, or both — for non-compliance.

Here are some of the restrictions bankrupts face:

  • Restrictions on property: Bankrupts cannot dispose of their private property, and are not able to purchase HDB executive or maisonette flats, unless they prove that they have the means and need for such big flats.
  • Travel restrictions: Bankrupts seeking to travel overseas will need to apply for permission from the Official Assignee.
  • Restrictions on taking loans: Bankrupts must declare their bankruptcy status when seeking to borrow sums above S$500.
  • Restrictions on positions that can be held in business: Bankrupts also cannot hold director and manager positions in corporations, limited liability partnerships, or businesses unless they have permission from the Court or Official Assignee. If a bankrupt wishes to form a new business, they must inform all business partners and clients of their bankruptcy status.
  • Restrictions on assuming public office: Bankrupts also cannot become a Member of Parliament, a Judge, a Magistrate or Justice of the Peace.

Knowing the law

If you find yourself caught in any of the above scenarios, it is helpful to understand what the law says, and how it applies to your situation.

After all, one must know their rights before being able to take action on them.

Law Awareness [email protected] 2020

Law Awareness [email protected] ([email protected]) 2020 is a series of legal talks and webinars from Oct. 5 to Nov. 13, which aims to promote awareness and understanding of the law in the community.

Find out more about topics such as:

  • Family Violence
  • Freelancing in a crisis
  • Dealing with Creditors (with focus on the needs of individuals and small businesses)
  • Landlord Tenancy Matters (with focus on the needs of individuals and small businesses)
  • Advance Legal Planning (which covers topics like making a will and/or Lasting Power of Attorney)

[email protected] 2020 is a collaboration between Law Society Pro Bono Services and the five Community Development Councils, as well as the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law, Singapore Management University School of Law, Singapore University of Social Sciences and the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association.

Sign up here.

Legal clinics

Beyond [email protected] 2020, there will also be other legal help provided to those who need it, including legal clinics organised by the five CDCs.

You can find out more here.

This sponsored article by Law Awareness [email protected] 2020 made the writer more aware of the law in a week.

Top image via unsplash.