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Consumers are often in a stronger position than they think

Mid-year bulletin of ConsuWijzer

New rules recently came into force, giving consumers more rights. Consumers often do not know what their rights (current or new) are. In the first half of 2014, ConsuWijzer received over 32,650 questions and complaints from consumers about their rights. With the advice and tools that ConsuWijzer offers (for example, on its website), consumers are often able to solve the problems they have with companies themselves. ConsuWijzer is the consumer information desk operated by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). The indications that ConsuWijzer receives form important pieces of information for ACM. ACM may decide to step in if there are problems in the market.

Awareness campaign about new consumer rules

In the past six months, ConsuWijzer ran a campaign called ‘Consumers are the champions’ to raise awareness among consumers about the new rules that came into force on June 13, 2014. In this campaign, ConsuWijzer called on consumers to take action if they wish to stand up for their rights. Elements of the campaign included a video commercial, and a step-by-step discussion guide (to rehearse discussions with salespeople).

Some of the most important new rules are:

  • The grace period for contracts concluded online or over the phone will be extended to 14 days;
  • the grace period of 14 days is also applicable to door-to-door sales and street vending in case of purchases of more than EUR 50;
  • if sellers do not properly inform consumers about the grace period, this period will then be extended to a maximum of 12 months;
  • agreements concerning a constant service, like telephone subscriptions or energy contracts, are only valid if consumers have agreed to such services in writing;
  • a ceiling will be introduced for the costs of calls to customer service lines using 090x-numbers; the maximum rate for such calls will be EUR 1 plus the normal charges.

Top three indications per category

In the first half of 2014, the top three categories of indications that Consuwijzer received concerned:

  1. Questions about warranty rights in case of faulty products/services. For example: my television broke down, but my warranty just expired. What are my rights?
  2. Questions about bills and payments. For example: my energy bill is incorrect. What are my options?
  3. Customer-recruitment methods and advertisements, including the Do-Not-Call-Me Register. For example: I was called by a telemarketer, despite the fact that I am registered in the Do-Not-Call-Me Register. How is that possible?

In 2013, the category ‘Customer-recruitment methods and advertisements’ was ranked second. In 2014, fewer indications about the Do-Not-Call-Me Register were received.

Top three indications per industry

The industries about which consumers had the most questions and complaints in the first half of 2014 were:

  1. Telecom companies
  2. Energy companies
  3. Retail non-food (electronics and domestic appliances)

Trends in indications per sales channel

Street vending

In the first half of 2014, ConsuWijzer received many indications about street vendors of children’s books and puzzle books. Consumers are often under the impression they are getting a trial product, but it then turns out they are stuck to a subscription. Although the amount of the first subscription period stays under EUR 50, the new grace period of 14 days does apply if the subscription is automatically renewed, and, as a result thereof, ends up costing more than EUR 50. Has the salesperson incorrectly informed the consumer about the grace period or has he failed to do so at all? The grace period is then extended to 12 months. This only applies to agreements concluded on or after June 13, 2014. More information about the new street-vending rules can be found here:

Telemarketing

In the first half of 2014, the number of indications about telemarketing that ConsuWijzer has received dropped again. Approximately 9 percent of all indications concerned telemarketing, compared with 14 percent in the first half of 2013, and 16 percent in the first half of 2012. This drop can be explained in part by the decrease in the number of questions and complaints about possible violations of the Do-Not-Call-Me Register. More information about the Do-Not-Call-Me Register can be found here:

Online shopping

When it comes to online shopping too, consumers are often not fully aware of their rights. For example, when purchasing fashion items in particular (clothing and shoes), consumers often decide within the grace period that they do not wish to keep the purchased items after all. When these consumers cancel their purchases, they often do not get a full refund. For example, online shops deduct administration costs or fail to reimburse the shipping costs, even though consumers are entitled to a full refund including all additional costs. If a consumer returns only part of the order, the shipping costs do not need to be reimbursed. ConsuWijzer welcomes any indications about online shops that fail to pay a full refund when canceling the entire purchase. These are crucial pieces of information for ACM. More information about the new rules about online shopping can be found here:

Enforcement actions of ACM

The indications ConsuWijzer receives are important pieces of information for ACM. As the regulator that operates ConsuWijzer, it was able to take the following actions in the first half of 2014 in part because of such indications:

  • Fine imposed on an energy company for violation of the Do-Not-Call-Me Register;
  • Warning issued about an online shop that did not deliver;
  • A telecom provider introduced a cap on negative balances for prepaid plans.