Consumer Authority half-yearly report 2008
Complaints regarding SMS services are unrelenting
During the first half of 2008, the Consumer Authority directed its focus to 'SMS services', 'Guarantees within the Travel Industry' and 'Guarantees and Conformity'. As far as SMS services are concerned, the Consumer Authority has observed that the number of reports concerning these that have been submitted to ConsuWijzer, the Authority's information desk for consumers, is still considerable. During the first six months of the year, ConsuWijzer received 729 reports on this topic. Even the introduction of the new SMS code of conduct on 1 April 2008 did not cause the number of complaints to decrease. As a result of this, the Consumer Authority is still devoting considerable effort to enforcement in this area. At the end of 2007, it submitted six complaints to the Dutch Advertising Code Authority (SRC) about misleading ringtone advertising. These six complaints were upheld and the advertising concerned has since been amended. In one particular case, the Consumer Authority compiled a report and two investigations are still ongoing. During the next few months, the Consumer Authority and OPTA will work together in order to closely monitor whether or not SMS-providers adhere to the rules. The number of claims submitted by consumers to ConsuWijzer remains a major barometer in this regard.
As far as Guarantees and Conformity is concerned, a great deal of effort has been devoted to raising awareness amongst consumers regarding the rules governing guarantees. Complaints about guarantees continue to form the largest number of complaints received from consumers. During the first six months of the year, ConsuWijzer received 4000 reports and complaints on this topic. Based upon this, the Consumer Authority commenced investigations into possible infringements of the statutory regulations governing guarantees and compliance. During the next few months, the Consumer Authority will carry out an investigation into the purchase of extended guarantees, which is something that frequently occurs in the electronic goods sector.
Guarantees within the Travel Industry: the Consumer Authority has commenced an investigation into a large number of travel companies that may have made inadequate arrangements or no arrangements at all in respect of the statutory guarantee in the event of insolvency. The results of this investigation will be made known later this year.
Outside of the Agenda, the Consumer Authority has taken up four matters that relate to distance selling. A total of 18 on-site inspections were undertaken. A total of 99 cases were completed during the first six months of 2008, which means that almost all of the cases dating back to 2007 have now been resolved.
In two specific cases in 2008, the Consumer Authority imposed a fine (PostGarant - EUR 130,000 and UPC EUR 303,000), combined with an order for incremental penalty payments in order to ensure compliance. Both companies have since launched appeals against the decision. In the case involving Garant-O-Matic, the Consumer Authority received an undertaking from the company that it would comply with the regulations from now onwards.
In 2008, the Consumer Authority received 22 enforcement requests, 20 notifications and 5 requests for information via the network of European Consumer Authorities. The majority of these originated from Belgium and related to shortcomings in the information provided on websites, particularly those belonging to travel operators.
The priority areas 'General Terms and Conditions' and 'Unfair Commercial Practices' are scheduled to be addressed during the second half of 2008, when the Consumer Authority will make a later start than planned with the enforcement of the Unfair Commercial Practices Act (OHP). The draft legislation that is intended to transpose the European Unfair Commercial Practices Directive is currently under scrutiny by the Upper House of the Dutch Parliament. As soon as the draft legislation enters into force, the Consumer Authority will ensure that the rules are observed. As far as General Terms and Conditions are concerned, the Consumer Authority intends to scrutinise the kitchen and furnishings sector more closely.
Provision of information to consumers
In March 2008, the Consumer Authority informed consumers about misleading sales techniques and if we take all of the Authority's awareness-raising activities as a whole, its printed media succeeded in reaching more than 1,500,000 consumers. The Consumer Authority also provided information via other channels, such as the internet. This particular campaign to raise awareness formed part of 'Fraud Prevention Month', an initiative of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) that intended to raise awareness of 'Fraud Prevention' in many countries at the same time. In collaboration with its sister organisation in Belgium, the Consumer Authority issued a special Lucky Luke comic strip on the subject of 'Hidden fraud' and a total of 5000 copies of this comic book were distributed free of charge via the ConsuWijzer website.
The State Secretary for Economic Affairs compiled a set of instructions for cases in which the Consumer Authority warns consumers of the damaging commercial practices of a specific company, even though no offence has been committed at that particular time. The instruction relates to the safeguards that apply when this type of information is provided. Whenever there exists an acute and real danger that consumers will suffer demonstrable financial losses or there is a reasonable assumption that an offence is being committed, the Consumer Authority is entitled to name the company in question, so as to ensure that consumers are aware of the situation as rapidly and efficiently as possible and are able to avoid incurring any losses.
This instruction was announced on 26 March 2008 in the Dutch Government Gazette [Staatscourant].
The regulations that relate to the rights of consumers with regard to guarantees have recently been tightened, in line with a recent judgment handed down by the European Court in the Quelle case. The judgment stated that a consumer cannot be obliged to make additional payment whenever a product that is unfit for purpose is repaired or replaced. The striking thing is that this also formed a subject about which ConsuWijzer received the greatest number of complaints - i.e. where the seller refuses to carry out a repair (free of charge) or to replace the product if it turned out to be unfit for purpose. Some 1500 of the 4000 reports and complaints that were received in relation to guarantees involved matters of this type.
The most important sectors that fall within the supervisory remit of the Consumer Authority and are the subject of complaints submitted via ConsuWijzer are the following:
- Electronic goods / white goods / household appliances (1460 reports)
- Retail in homewares (1050)
- Distance selling / telemarketing (758)
- SMS services/ ringtones (729)
- Travel agencies / travel organisers (396)