Never forget to take a receipt
The failure to issue a bill or a cash memo is an unfair trade practice. Under the Consumer Protection Act, a consumer has a right to be protected against such acts

Sometime ago, a consumer came to me with a complaint about an expensive furniture bought from a fancy shop in Gurgaon. Apparently, she had seen an intricately carved sofa set at the showroom and since that had already been sold, asked for an identical set to be made. However, when the pieces were delivered at her house, she noticed that the quality of wood or its polishing was so bad that the wood was rough, there were what looked like bubbles that had burst and generally considering the price that she had paid for it, the final product was really a big disappointment and certainly not similar to what she had seen and chosen. One piece was even wobbly and not stable.

She complained and asked him to replace the entire set or give her money back. The retailer did neither, despite repeated calls. After some time, he would not even pick up her calls. In a situation like this, the consumer ought to get back not only her money, but also compensation for the harassment suffered and it should be steep enough to send out a clear message to the retailer that he cannot treat consumers this way and get away with it.

Thinkstockphotos/ Getty ImagesSince she had spent almost a lakh of rupees on it, I told her to straight away file a complaint before the consumer court, seeking a refund, compensation, punitive damages and costs. I told her how to write out a complaint. "Don't forget to attach an attested copy of the cash receipt", I said. That's when she told me that she did not have a cash receipt! The retailer apparently told her that she would unnecessarily pay a lot of tax if he issued her a receipt and so she did not take a receipt. "By trying to save a (relatively) small sum on the tax, you have lost not only the entire money that you have paid for the furniture, but also your right to redressal of your grievance through the consumer courts", I told her.

Eventually, I suggested that she write a letter to the retailer about the problem with the furniture that she had bought from him and so long as he did not dispute the purchase or the amount, she can perhaps use it as evidence. I also suggested that if she had taken a friend or a relative at the time of purchase, she can get that person to confirm the purchase through an affidavit and use that in her complaint before the consumer court. I quote this example to highlight the importance of cash receipts and the fact that most consumers do not insist on it and collect it either because they do not understand its importance or because they do not want to offend the retailer or because they want to save on the tax. And they suffer the consequences when the product that they have purchased turns out to be defective.

The Consumer Protection Act defines a consumer as a person who 'buys' any goods or 'hires' any service for a 'consideration'. In the absence of any payment or consideration, the consumer does not acquire the right to complain under the law. So a receipt is one of the most important documents required to prove that the complainant is indeed a consumer - a receipt showing that the product or the service that they are complaining about, was actually paid for.

Second, you need the receipt not only to show what you have bought and for how much, but also to indicate the person (or the shop) from whom you have bought it. So a cash receipt is an absolute must.

While consumers are mostly unaware of this, the traders are too well versed on how to protect their interests. So a large percentage of them run their business without ever issuing a receipt. That way, they not only avoid paying taxes, but also prevent the consumer from complaining against them before the consumer court. The Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs has now decided to come to the rescue of consumers and ensure that they have a right to a cash memo under the Consumer Protection Act. In the Consumer Protection (Amendment ) Bill, 2011, introduced in Parliament last year, it has made failure to issue a bill or a cash memo, an unfair trade practice. Under the Consumer Protection Act, a consumer has a right to be protected against unfair trade practices and so once the amended bill is passed by Parliament and notified, a consumer can haul up those who refuse to issue a bill, for an unfair trade practice. And the consumer courts can not only award compensation to affected individuals, but also impose steep punitive damages. The Amendment Bill, which is now before the Parliamentary Standing Committee, is expected to be passed in the next session of Parliament.