WHEN a person becomes so seriously ill that she is unable to use up a spa or facial package bought earlier, getting a refund from the beauty salon is not a given.
A customer of a skin treatment company learnt this hard truth last year.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer and was advised by her doctors to stop facial treatments immediately.
The customer, who declined to be named for privacy reasons, still had $5,995 worth of facial sessions left in her package, but the company was willing to refund only $3,800.
She went to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) for help and managed to get back $5,500.
She is among a small number of people who ask for refunds on their beauty packages because of serious medical conditions, according to the 10 beauty and wellness companies The Straits Times contacted.
Some of them get such requests only once every few years.
Serious medical conditions include critical skin conditions, cancer and terminal illnesses.
Medical reasons, however, do not guarantee a refund.
"Unless it is contractually provided for, it is not mandatory for the company to provide the customer with a refund in spite of the medical condition," said Mr Benjamin Cheong, a partner at law firm Rajah & Tann.
Spa and wellness companies with CaseTrust accreditation from the consumer watchdog will offer a full refund within a cooling-off period of five working days.
For refund requests due to serious medical conditions which happen after the cooling-off period, most firms usually allow them out of goodwill and on a case-by-case basis.
Five of the 10 companies interviewed require a medical certificate of proof.
Said Mr Edward Tong, honorary secretary of the Spa and Wellness Association (Singapore): "In terms of compassionate consideration, I would think most businesses will consider if the reason provided is legitimate and factual.
Most forward-looking businesses want to enhance goodwill and long-term relationships with regular customers."
Beauty and slimming company Mary Chia receives three to five refund requests due to serious medical conditions every year.
The firm will usually suggest alternative treatments that get the green light from the customer's doctor, or suggest transferring the remaining sessions to the customer's friend or family member.
If the customer does not agree to either of the suggestions, the firm will then require a medical statement from a doctor to decide whether to grant a refund.
"The company will, at its sole discretion, provide a refund for genuine cases," said Ms Sharon Tan, 33, the group senior marketing and business manager for Mary Chia Holdings.
Others require more details.
At Global Wellness Holding - which runs Body Contour, Passage New York, and Hair Inc New York - customers seeking a refund for medical reasons have to be certified unfit by a registered medical practitioner.
The doctor must also make specific reference to the treatment programme in his document.
As refunds often involve contractual and legal issues, consumers are advised to scrutinise their contract.
For instance, some businesses include clauses which state that any cancellation of packages will incur administrative charges, said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.
Others note that customers who cancel will not enjoy the discounts that come with the package - each consumed treatment will thus be charged its full price and the customer will have to pay back the difference.
"Consumers should do their due diligence and read the terms and conditions of the contract carefully before signing on the dotted line," said Mr Seah.
This article was first published on Feb 24, 2015.
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