ConsuWijzer helps consumers to stand up for their rights
For consumers with complaints and problems the barrier to obtaining justice often seems high, and ConsuWijzer is seeking to lower that barrier. A few additional tools at their disposal should make consumers feel more confident about standing up for their rights. Over the next few months the ConsuWijzer website will give consumers some extra support in the form of checklists, success stories and the experiences of other consumers. The goal of the campaign is to prevent consumers from being obliged, unnecessarily, to keep their broken washing machines and unwanted subscriptions. Action pays. And ConsuWijzer can certainly help you in this regard.
It is clear from the popularity of the model letters on ConsuWijzer that there is a substantial demand for such tools among consumers. In the first six months of 2011 the use of model letters rose by 14% compared to the same period in 2010. In total they were used more than 250,000 times in 2011. “Sometimes consumers are reluctant to confront the retailer. In spite of the fact that it is quite normal to take action when you think you are within your rights. Consumers with a success story can therefore serve as an example to other consumers. Proper preparation is also very important. Being fully aware of your rights is only part of such preparation. A well-prepared consumer can articulate his problem, knows what questions he is likely to be asked, and defines his objectives for the interview in advance. This is why there will soon be more ‘Back to the shop’ checklists,” according to Pauline Bijlenga, head of ConsuWijzer.
Facts and figures
In the first half of 2011 the supervisors behind ConsuWijzer - the Consumer Authority, the NMa (Netherlands Competition Authority) and OPTA (Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority) – received some 44,000 questions and reports from consumers through their helpdesks. During this period the website was visited almost a million times. This is comparable to the same period last year, although the number of questions asked actually declined. This is partly because the information on the website has been revised in such a way that it is easier for the consumer to find the information he is looking for. So far in 2011 about 40,000 comparisons have been made using the energy guide on ConsuWijzer.
The sectors with the most reports were:
- Telecom companies
- Energy companies
- Electronics and white goods
- Games of chance and lotteries
- Home interior shops
Most of these reports related to:
- termination/cancellation of the agreement;
- late or non delivery of products and services;
- energy prices.
Consumers and the news
The news often generates questions from consumers about their rights. This has led to the publication by ConsuWijzer of information about such topical subjects as:
- lack of clarity about cancellation and automatic extension of subscriptions, and about the coming into force of new regulations in this regard (as from 1-12-2011);
- practical advice about your rights as a traveller if you have booked a trip to a country where the situation may be unsafe (this in the light of the current unrest in the Middle East);
- your rights as a traveller if your flight is cancelled due to force majeure (this following a new volcanic eruption in Iceland);
- your rights if the shop where you made your purchase has gone bankrupt.
Actions by supervisors in connection with reports
Partly as a result of the reports from consumers, the supervisors behind the helpdesk were able to act against companies that are breaking the rules.
Earlier this year the NMa andt the Consumer Authority imposed fines on energy companies for the misleading way in which they recruited customers door-to-door, while OPTA fined the same companies for violating the regulations on telemarketing. Many customers complained about this matter through the special contact point on ConsuWijzer.
The Consumer Authority also fined three companies for misleading sales demonstrations during bus trips. Consumer reports about webshops not delivering led to the Consumer Authority taking two webshops off the air.
The NMa evaluated websites which compare the prices of energy suppliers, and urged energy suppliers to make their contracts easier to understand.
Over the last six months OPTA imposed more than a million Euros worth of fines on companies for violation of the telemarketing regulations. OPTA also took action against SMS, fax and email spam following complaints received by ConsuWijzer and others. In the first half of 2011 OPTA imposed spam-related fines on five occasions.
ConsuWijzer is the information helpdesk for consumers, offering practical tips and advice about their rights. The helpdesk, which can be contacted through www.consuwijzer.nl and telephone number (088) 0707070, is an initiative of three supervisory bodies of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, namely the Consumer Authority, the Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) and the Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority (OPTA).