The powers of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) have been laid down in laws and regulations. These rules determine what we can and cannot do. In several procedures and policy rules, we have clarified how we exercise our powers in practice.
Informers and investigations
Many investigations launched by ACM have been prompted by solid leads (tip-offs). These tip-offs may have been submitted by businesses or to ConsuWijzer, but they may have also been submitted by anonymous informers. We are unable to investigate all tip-offs we receive. That is why we make choices. We make choices on the basis of our prioritization policy. When carrying out investigations, our officials have several powers. They have the power to:
- enter premises;
- request information;
- demand access to documents;
- take along data.
These powers do not only apply to business premises, but also to homes. Furthermore, everyone is required to cooperate with ACM investigations. If we come across correspondence between lawyers and their clients, we will leave such correspondence outside the investigation (legal professional privilege). This applies to both correspondence found at a law firm as well as at the company under investigation.
- Prioritization of requests for enforcement action (in Dutch)
- Policy rule of ACM with regard to informers (anonymous and non-anonymous)
- 2014 ACM Procedure for the inspection of digital data
- 2014 ACM Procedure regarding the legal professional privilege of lawyers
Enforcement and publicity
If companies fail to comply with the rules, we have several legal instruments at our disposal in order to force them to comply. We have the ability to impose fines for violations that have been committed. The fines can be imposed on both the firm as well as on the individuals involved. The level of the fine depends on the seriousness and the duration of the violation, and on the specific circumstances of the case in question. Have there been repeat offenses or has the investigation been obstructed? If so, the fine may be set higher. But fines can also be lowered, for example if the injured parties receive damages from the violator. At the end of the day, the fine should be proportional to the violation, and it should have a sufficiently deterrent effect, not just on the violator himself, but also on other companies. That is why we publish the fines that we impose on our website. In addition, we also have the option of issuing public warnings against companies that violate consumer protection regulations. That way, we seek to prevent other consumers from being harmed.