ECC Ireland’s Annual Report 2016 shows 4,337 consumer contacts received and 719 cases actively pursued in 2016
The world of consumer rights can be a very busy one, so much so, that we at ECC Ireland just cannot believe that the time has once again come around when we’re talking about the annual report 2016 – It’s almost like someone uttering the word ‘Christmas’ too soon (a certain mega Dublin luxury store springs to mind!) Although it’s crazy how time flies so quickly it’s good to look back at the many calls, emails, carrier pigeons, received from consumers and reflect on the work that has been carried out to try to resolve cross-border consumer issues during 2016 and what nuggets of information can be gleaned from those cases.
This month’s eBulletin will look at the key findings fo the 2016 report which shows how ECC Ireland was kept on its toes with 4,337 contacts from consumers – phone calls, emails, or through our website contact form – and 719 cases which required direct intervention on behalf of consumers. There is also a further breakdown for the contacts received and our top five areas of cross-border consumer complaints.
As always, we also have the consumer success story of the month which relates to trader not having any knowledge of a consumer’s right to a 14 day cooling off period. The consumer query of the month involves an Irish consumer who was surprised when he was required to provide not one, but two, credit cards when renting a car on holidays.
To find out more read on below or download your free copy of ECC Ireland’s August 2017 eBulletin.
ECC Ireland’s Annual Report 2016 – assisting consumers across Europe
In 2016, ECC Ireland received contacts in the form of calls, emails, or website contact forms, from 4,337 consumers which represents a significant increase of almost 24 per cent in the number of contacts received in 2015. Of these contacts, 2,330 were cross-border complaints, meaning the consumer had a dispute with a trader based in another EU/EEA country and it fell under ECC-Net’s remit. The remaining contacts (2,007) were classified as requests for information.
Out of the 2,007 requests for information received in 2016, 1,901 involved queries regarding general guidance on consumer law, domestic disputes and referrels to relevant organisations, whilst a further 106 related to requests for publications, such as leaflets. This represents a remarkable increase of 50 per cent when compared with 2015 figures.
Most cross-border complaints involved consumers from Ireland (1,714) about traders based in other European countries. ECC Ireland provided these consumers with continued support to solve their complaint amicably. ECC Ireland was also contacted by 64 consumers with residence in other European countries in relation to complaints against Irish traders. Our colleagues from other ECCs also registered in the same period 1,739 complaints against traders operating from Ireland, bringing up to 1,803 the number of complaints involving traders with their place of residence in Ireland.
The overall number of cross-border consumer complaints which required the direct intervention by ECC Ireland and ECC-Net colleagues on behalf of consumers came to 719 in 2016. Of these, 167 involved Irish consumers against traders based in other European countries while 552 cases related to complaints by consumers from other European countries against traders based in Ireland.
Top areas of cross-border consumer complaints in 2016
As in previous years, the 2016 Annual Report provides a further breakdown of the cross-border consumer complaints actively pursued by ECC Ireland – this means the cases which required direct intervention on behalf of consumers. This breakdown reveals what were the most common issues faced by consumers in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe.
Yep, you guessed it! Air passenger rights is once again the most popular area of complaint with 338 complaints (47 per cent of total cases). This has consistently been in the number one spot year-after-year which is primarily due to the sheer numbers of people who travel by air with popular airlines and the difficulties they may face in relation to flight delay, cancellation, lost or damaged baggage, and problems seeking redress. In second place for 2016 is car rental which is another area of complaint which seems to affect a lot of holidaymakers. There were 78 car rental related complaints for this period representing 11 per cent of total cases actively pursued. Electronic products came in third place with 57 cases (7.9 per cent of total cases) followed by furniture in fourth with 49 cases (6.8 per cent) and hotels and accommodation in fifth with 39 cases (5.4 per cent).
Other areas of complaint included communications services, recreational items, financial services, car purchase parts, other transport services, clothing and footwear, package holidays, timeshare and holiday clubs, health, housing, and books/newspapers.
Air passenger rights
- There were 338 cases dealt with by ECC Ireland, the majority of which were complaints made by consumers based in another EU country against Irish airlines.
- Flight cancellations and delays were the number one cause for air passenger-related complaints. This was followed by lost/delayed/damaged luggage, airline booking errors, denied boarding, and passenger illness.
- There were 78 cases dealt with by ECC Ireland, 59 originating from consumers based in other EU/EEA countries complaining about car rental traders in Ireland, whilst a further 19 cases were pursued on behalf of Irish consumers.
- Supplementary charges imposed when returning the vehicle was the most problematic area of complaint, followed by problems with the booking process, and hard-selling techniques for additional products such as insurance.
- 57 cases in this area required direct intervention by ECC Ireland. 35 of these cases were from consumers based elsewhere in the EU/EEA against Irish-based traders while the remaining 22 were from Irish consumers against traders based elsewhere in EU/EEA.
- The main area of complaint involved faulty/defective smartphones and laptops followed by delay in delivery of purchased products.
- 49 cases in this area required the direct intervention by ECC Ireland, of which 33 related to complaints against a single trader which established a presence in Ireland in 2016.
- The majority of complaints related to unfair terms in consumer contracts, unfair commercial practices and a failure of traders to comply with provisions for the right of withdrawal as set out by the Consumer Rights Directive. Other issues included the quality of goods, delivery times, and guarantees.
Hotels and Accommodation
- 39 cases in this area required the direct intervention of ECC Ireland, 56% of which were against Irish based traders.
- 2016 is the first year since 2011 that hotels and accommodation services has entered the top five complaints. This is largely attributable to the increasing numbers of consumers choosing to book their own accommodation rather than opting for package holidays.
- Complaints involved problems with online bookings – difficulties trying to cancel, not knowing who the contract is with, standard and quality of the accommodation. Other issues related to overcharging, mistakes with details of bookings, and problems encountered during the booking problems.
What did ECC Ireland get up to during 2016?
Alternative Dispute Resolution/Online Dispute Resolution
During 2016, ECC Ireland continued its work on the promotion of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in Ireland. In addition to this, with ECC Ireland being designated the national contact point for the new EU-wide Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform, we also worked hard to help promote this new initiative by the European Commission and provide information not just to consumers but also traders and other stakeholders.
In October, ECC Ireland in conjunction with the Dublin Chamber of Commerce (host to Leinster Enterprise Europe), held a seminar on ADR and ODR legislation and obligations and the event was also an opportunity to launch a new guide for traders selling online.
Launch of the new Services Directive report
It was also a very busy year for ECC Ireland due to a joint ECC-Net project examining the effectiveness of the Directive 2006/123/EC on Services in the Internal Market (‘Services Directive’) and cases that relate to it. ECC-Ireland was the project leader, assisted by a working group made up of ECCs Austria, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.
The project resulted in the publication of a report titled, ‘Do Invisible Borders Still Restrict Consumer Access to Services in the EU?’, which was officially launched, in conjunction with the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, at the European Commission Representation for Northern Ireland in Belfast in December 2016.
The report is an analysis of cases of different treatment of customers across Europe, potentially relevant pursuant to Article 20.2 of the Services Directive which outlines the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality and place of residence. The report found that consumers continue to face restrictions and are regularly confronted with refusal to deliver or higher prices based on their nationality of place of residence. The complaints show that some traders have created artificial barriers and the reasons given for the restrictions applied are unjustified. The largest number of Article 20.2 related complaints came from consumers based in Austria, Italy, and Ireland.
Media, events and outreach activities:
It was also a busy year for media and outreach activities with 249 media interviews/mentions achieved across all media channels, representing an increase of nearly 65 per cent on 2015’s figure.
ECC Ireland provided consumers with information on a range of subjects and events including the launch of the new ODR platform, a warning to holidaymakers about scams for Scam Prevention Month, ECC-Net’s report on cross-border car purchases, Europe Day and what the EU has done for consumrs, advice about doing your research when buying horses online, the European Commission’s e-commerce package, how consumer rights have not change despite Brexit, your consumer rights ahead of Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and the launch of ECC-Net’s Services Directive report.
Of the 249 media mentions achieved during 2016, nearly 50 per cent came about as a result of the 10 press releases sent out to the media. Other mentions came about through responding to media queries, EC Radio Ireland new wire service, and other communication tools such as the monthly eBulletin. The 2016 media coverage includes the following:
- ‘Irish holidaymakers stung for up to €7,000 in Canary Island scams’ (Irish Independent, February 5th, 2016);
- ‘Fake Airbnb hosts in holiday scams’ (Sunday Times, February 21st, 2016);
- ‘Buying an import? Better do it before Brexit’ (The Irish Times, March 30th, 2016);
- ‘Europe moves to free consumers from tyranny of geoblocking’ (The Irish Times, May 26th, 2016);
- ‘Avoid a holiday hangover: problems with car hire, phones, and flights’ (The Sunday Times, September 4th, 2016); and
- ‘Buyer Beware: When it comes to festive shopping, know your rights under consumer law’ (Sunday Business Post, December 4th, 2016).
In addition to media activities, ECC Ireland also participated in a number of public events and outreach activities during 2016. One of the highlights was the National Ploughing Championships in Tullamore where we had an information stand in the European Union marquee. This was a great opportunity to talk to the public, rub shoulders with consumers, ministers, and MEPs, and spread the ECC-Net message. We also held a number of talks at various Europe Direct centres throughout the country, a training session with Citizens Information Centre staff, and held information stands at The Central Library in the Ilac Shopping Centre and at the Eurodesk national ‘Time to Move’ event at Dublin Castle.
Download your copy of ECC Ireland’s Annual Report 2016
If you want to find out more, then download ECC Ireland’s 2016 Annual Report here.
Consumer success story of the month:
A UK consumer bought a virtual reality headset from an Irish based trader but later discovered a defect in the product – the headset was tilting slightly to the left. The consumer contacted the trader who said that he could provide a tool that would help but the consumer instead wished to avail of his right to the 14 day cooling off period. However, the trader told the consumer he could only avail of a repair or replacement and seemed to have no knowledge of the right to a 14 day cooling off period. ECC Ireland contacted the trader informing it that when consumers buy products online they are indeed entitled to avail of the right of withdrawal as set out in the Consumer Rights Directive. It was also pointed out to the trader that it should also provide information to this effect on its website and that failure to do so may actually extend the right to withdrawal to 12 months. Following this intervention, the trader conceded and provided a full refund once the product was returned.
Consumer query of the month:
Q: In April I booked car rental for a holiday in Milan through a third party car rental booking site. I did check the terms and conditions and it said I only needed one credit card for the holding deposit. However when I arrived at the car rental desk I was told that I needed two credit cards. They said that their terms and conditions had changed only the week before! When I contacted the agent for the third party website he was unaware of this and spoke to the car rental location rep to explain this. The car rental company would only waive this requirement if I bought their insurance. Are they allowed to do this?
A: When you’re booking car rental through a third party car rental booking website it is a good idea to always check the terms and conditions thoroughly to check what you need in terms of documentation, credit cards, paying for the deposit and other requirements. As this website is just an intermediary it is also recommended to double check with the car rental company (the car rental location that is actually providing the vehicle) what its terms and conditions are, just in case it differs in some way. Print this all out so that if there is an issue at the car rental desk then you can have some evidence to show.
If you book the car rental a few months before you go on holidays it is a good idea to check the terms and conditions once again just before you go so that you can spot any changes and find out further information if required.
Press and Communications Officer
The European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net), which covers 30 countries (all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland), and offers a free and confidential information and advice service to the public on their rights as consumers, assisting customers with cross-border disputes. ECC Ireland is funded by the European Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the European Consumer Centre cannot be held responsible for matters arising from any errors or omissions contained in this publication. The information provided is intended as a guide only and not as a legal interpretation.
© 2017 – European Consumer Centre (Ireland), CLG incorporated in Ireland, No. 367035, Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708. Located at MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7.
This ebulletin is part of the action 670695 – ECC-Net IE FPA which has received funding under a grant for an ECC action from the European Union’s Consumer Programme (2014-2020).
The content of this ebulletin represents the views of the author only and it is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture, and Food Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.