Vijay was upset with the quality of service of his mobile network. Despite following up several times, the quality of services continued to be dismal. He learnt that the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 provided the current legal framework for consumers to address their grievance with service quality and set out to discover more.
A service is an intangible benefit, or facility, made available to potential users. It includes, but is not limited to, provision of services in connection with banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical or other energy, telecom, boarding or lodging or both, housing construction, entertainment, amusement or providing of news or other information. Under this law, the protection is available only in respect of a paid service. It does not apply to any free service and does not cover a contract of personal service or employment.
Paid services from professionals, maintenance, laundry, security, courier, packaging and dispatch, internet, beauty and wellness and hospitality would constitute services.
While this term is not defined under the Consumer Protection Act, it is understood as meeting the stated level offered by the service provider. It incorporates three elements: people delivering the service, type of service delivery and the systems used by the service provider to deliver the service. It could include different determinants like access, assurance, competence, communication, empathy, reliability, responsiveness, security and tangible outcomes.
At the time of entering into the service transaction, it is important that the consumer is clear about his expectation from the service and raises effective questions on the different service dimensions to get a commitment from the service provider about the quality of service on offer. It is advisable to get a written communication from the service provider. A proper record of the communication with the service provider would put him in a better position to assert his rights.
For the service provider, it is important that he clearly communicates the level and scope of service quality he is offering to the consumer.
Deficiency of Service
Deficiency is defined as any
in the quality, nature and manner of performance required to be maintained under any law or has been undertaken to be performed by the service provider.
any action, omission or negligence by the service provider that causes loss or injury to the consumer; and
concealment or hiding of relevant information by the service provider from the consumer
While some laws may shield staff of government organizations from complaints of deficiency of service, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission affirmed, in the case of BL Sood vs. Delhi Transport Corporation, that such laws do not affect the consumer’s right to be compensated under the Consumer Protection Act. The Delhi Transport Corporation could recover the amount from the concerned officials for the deficiency of service.
In Lucknow Development Authority vs. MK Gupta, the Supreme Court held that the department concerned must pay the amount to the complainant from the public fund but can recover the same from those found responsible. It said: “A government or semi-government body or a local authority is as much amenable to the Consumer Protection Act as any other private body rendering similar service. The Act requires the provider of service to be more objective and caretaking. It is still more in public services...”
The Supreme Court has affirmed the right of the consumer to compensation for deficiency in service across different sectors that include:
Situation where a builder does not provide the flat to the purchaser on time; this remedy is in addition to the remedy available under the Real Estate Regulation Act (RERA).
Service rendered to a patient by a medical practitioner by way of consultation, diagnosis and treatment, both medicinal and surgical. Deficiency in service is judged by applying the test of reasonable skill and care.
Deficiency in telecom services.
Insurance sector – Refusal of a claim solely on the ground of delay by a person in intimating the insurance company about the theft.
Deficiency in locker services – the Court issued guidelines on allotting and operating of lockers.
When asserting your rights against deficiency of service, it is important to:
Engage: Get involved in taking up the matter with the service provider. If it is not addressed at an informal level, take it up formally with the service provider and Ombudsman (if applicable), providing full information including the bill/contract, details of service actually provided, nature and extent of deficiency, loss or damage (if any) caused to the consumer and resolution sought. If it is not resolved adequately, the matter can be taken up under the Consumer Protection Act.
Analyze: Compare the service actually provided with the level offered by the service provider and if required with the service levels for similar services of other service providers.
Anticipate: Think carefully about the issues that may be raised by the service provider to avoid liability for deficiency of service.
Update: Ensure that you maintain information/communication received from the service provider, record of the transaction and follow-up and contact with the witnesses (as applicable).
With this understanding of the law, Vijay found himself to be more assertive about the quality of service when availing of services...
The author has her focus on education, legal issues and governance and enjoys working with individuals and organizations towards enhancing their effectiveness