The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has conducted follow-up checks among approximately 60 companies that were reprimanded last year for violating consumer regulations. Consumers had filed reports with ACM ConsuWijzer, ACM’s consumer information portal, after which ACM launched an investigation. ACM conducted these follow-up checks, because it is important that companies always comply with the rules. Over 90 percent of the companies that ACM checked comply with the rules. For the companies that did not comply with the rules, ACM will launch a follow-up process.
Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, adds: ‘In some cases, ACM chooses to address the issue with the company directly, to give the company the opportunity to correct the violation. If it does so in a swift manner, and the correction is permanent, it will be a boost, not only for consumer confidence, but also for the company itself. If a company does not keep its word, we will take stricter measures. In that context, consumer reports continue to be very critical.’
Consumers and businesses face many problems as a result of the pandemic
What stood out in 2020 were the problems that were caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, such as the many cancellations of holiday bookings and events. ACM reprimanded companies that refused to give consumers their refunds. This happened in various industries, such as the travel industry, event industry, and the recreation industry (including daytime recreation). Following ACM interventions, some of the adjustments that were implemented include:
- Organizers of sports events and cultural events as well as vendors of concert tickets adjusted their terms and conditions and their policies with regard to compensations in case of force majeure, and with regard to refunds in case of cancellations;
- Season ticket holders (for example, for zoos or theme parks) or members (for example, of gyms) were able to receive compensations for the period in which they were not able to use their tickets or memberships.
- Recreational parks improved the information about their voucher schemes on their websites and in their consumer communication.
Interventions targeting online providers
The number of online purchases continues to grow, and, as a consequence, so does the number of complaints about online providers and online services. That is why ACM ensured that:
- Online stores inform consumers better about their delivery times, refund consumers in a timely manner, and are easier to reach by their customers;
- Providers of unsolicited follow-up shipments stopped sending those shipments, after ACM had pointed out to them that consumers do not have to pay anything if they do not know what they agreed to and what the costs are;
- Companies that offered vague services (such as agency services) at unclear prices are now clear about their services and prices.
Online providers often operate from outside the Netherlands. That is why ACM works closely together with fellow regulators in other countries in order to take action against companies that harm Dutch consumers from those countries. For example, think of customer service centers that are hard to reach, geoblocking (restricting the ‘shop-like-a-local’ principle), incorrect price information, failure to deliver products, and restricting the consumers’ right of withdrawal. Conversely, when facing similar problems, regulators in other countries are also able to call on ACM in order to take action against companies that are based in the Netherlands and that harm non-Dutch consumers. In 2020, ACM paid extra attention to international dealers that tried to take advantage of consumers’ vulnerable positions because of the coronavirus pandemic. For example, think of false claims about the protection level of products such as face masks, and the failure to deliver products.
Reports filed with ACM ConsuWijzer
Reports filed by consumers with ACM ConsuWijzer form crucial input for ACM’s oversight efforts. In 2020, ACM received 73,000 reports from consumers and businesses. That is more than 20 percent higher than in 2019, which is mainly the result of the pandemic. Consumers used the sample letters approximately 100,000 times, where the sample letter for ‘terminating a contract’ was the most used letter. Consumers gave ACM ConsuWijzer’s customer contact over the phone, on average, an 8.2 (out of 10), and gave its consumer contact through social media, on average, a 9.2.