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European Consumer Summit

The 2014 European Consumer Summit took place in Brussels on the 1st and 2nd April. The theme of this year’s summit was consumers in the digital era, with participants invited to consider and discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by advances in technology. With the European Commission’s Digital Agenda seeking to improve access to online services – and increase protections for users – this is a particularly timely topic.

It is estimated that the internet is used by more than 370 million EU citizens. More than half of EU consumers have made an online purchase in the last 12 months and the digital economy is expected to grow significantly over the coming years, with apps alone predicted to generate €63 billion for the European economy. Against this backdrop, speakers including John Higgins of Digital Europe, Monique Goyens from BEUC (the European Consumer Organisation), and Commissioner for Consumer Policy Neven Mimica came together to present their take on the major issues likely to affect consumers both now and in the future.

It was pointed out that consumers are “increasingly concerned” about data protection and how their personal information is used. Commissioner Mimica noted that that personal data has become a new currency, used to pay for free online services. Monique Goyens raised the issue of biased search results from internet search engines, noting that consumers have a legitimate expectation that their search queries will return neutral results. The problem of free-to-use social media sites monetising users’ details in order to sell targeted advertising was also acknowledged. Vice-President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes spoke on the second day of the summit, highlighting the fact that 1 in 4 European consumers frequently find their internet services blocked or restricted and stating her intention to ban such restrictions.

 

Report on Consumer Policy

Earlier this month, the Commission released its second Report on Consumer Policy. This annual publication provides updates on the implementation of the European Consumer Agenda, which was adopted in 2012. This year’s report highlights advances made in promoting consumer safety, enhancing knowledge of consumer rights, strengthening the enforcement of consumer rules, and the integration of consumer interests into key policy areas such as food, transport, and energy. More information, including the full report, can be accessed here.

 

Abolition of roaming charges

In a vote held on 3rd April, the European Parliament voted to abolish roaming charges across the EU as of December 2015. This means that, once legislation is finalised and comes into effect, consumers travelling within the EU will no longer face increased charges for using their phone while abroad. It follows studies carried out by the Commission which found that a majority of young Europeans would increase their mobile roaming usage if fees were removed. Draft legislation will be discussed once the new parliament is elected in May, with the Commission setting a deadline of December 2014 for final agreement.

 

Consumer Query of the Month

I booked a holiday through an internet-based booking agent in December. I received an email last week stating that in order to secure the booking I needed to pay 250 EUR extra despite the fact my holiday had already been paid for. Having done some internet research, I discovered that many holiday makers experienced room cancellations and difficulties in recovering the monies paid. There is speculation that the company has gone into administration. What can I do?

When a booking agent gets into financial difficulties, this can lead to significant problems for consumers who have used the agent’s website to make a reservation. When a company enters administration, an administrator is appointed. The administrator will try to identify remedies for the company’s financial difficulties and may decide to sell parts of the business or make spending cuts. The company may still carry on trading while this is happening. This can confuse many consumers, who aren’t certain if their bookings will be honoured.

We recommend that you contact your hotel directly to make sure that your reservation is still confirmed and will not be affected by the administration. If it is not, you should consider contacting your bank or credit card provider to see if you can avail of a chargeback on the transaction. It is also advisable to check the information available on the company’s website and, for more information, contact the appointed administrator.

 

Success Story of the Month

ECC Ireland was contacted by a consumer who had purchased a camera lens from a French trader. The lens turned out to be faulty but the trader refused to provide a remedy and said that the item should be sent to the manufacturer for repair. However, the manufacturer would not cover shipping expenses for the lens. ECC Ireland shared the case with our sister office in France, who contacted the trader in relation to the complaint. The trader agreed to repair the lens and returned it to the consumer at no extra cost. Several months later, a separate fault developed with the item and the consumer once again sought assistance from ECC Ireland. Following further intervention by ECC France, the trader provided a replacement lens free of charge.

 

If you want more information on this or any other cross-border consumer issue, please contact us on 01 8797 620 or go to www.eccireland.ie.