The whys, hows, and whos of getting consumer assistance when you’ve a complaint
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a problem with a faulty good bought online, difficulties travelling by planes, trains, or automobiles, or any number other consumer problems you can encounter there are various options and bodies out there that can give you information and assistance. However, sometimes when there’s a lot of choice there can sometimes be a lot of confusion too. With that in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to put together some top tips on who to contact, as well as the how and the why, of getting consumer assistance when you’ve a complaint or are in need of help.
The consumer success story of the month looks at how ECC helped an Irish consumer get a refund for a faulty phone. The query of the month highlights how a UK trader tried to wrongly argue that EU consumer legislation does not apply and therefore it didn’t have to refund return postage costs of a faulty product.
To find out more read on below or download your free copy of ECC Ireland’s July 2017 eBulletin.
Who you gonna call? Here’s some tips on getting consumer assistance and who to contact
When you thought that dress you bought online would be a classy number but instead you get a monstrosity that looks nothing like what you ordered, who do you call for information? When your plane trip abroad turns into a Tom Hanks Terminal sequel and you’re having trouble getting expenses and compensation, where do you turn to next? What help is available if that car rental complaint is going nowhere? From online shopping, air passenger rights, renting a car abroad, to booking holiday accommodation there are so many issues that consumers unfortunately encounter. It can be hard sometimes to know first of all if you have rights and what those rights are, how to make the complaint, and who to contact if you need further help.
Gif source: Ghostbusters / www.imgflip.com
The good news is that there is plenty of information and assistance available for EU consumers. Here’s some tips on what to do and who to contact which will hopefully get you started.
Stand up for your rights! Where to find out more information about your consumer rights
One of the first things consumers should do if they encounter an issue with a contract they have entered into with a trader is to find out about their rights. There are so many free resources available making it much easier for consumers to find out not just what EU or national legislation has to say on the matter but if it applies to their particular set of circumstances.
When it comes to general consumer legislation the main resources include the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), the Consumer Association of Ireland, and the Citizens Information Centre. ECC Ireland can also provide further assistance, when needed. In relation to air passenger rights there is also the national enforcement body Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR). There are many other organisations that can help in other areas and this will be covered later. First though, let’s look at the the difference between ECC Ireland and CCPC and when you should call CAR.
ECC Ireland Vs CCPC – What’s the difference?
European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland
If you have a consumer dispute with a trader based in another EU country, or Norway and Iceland, then ECC Ireland is who you should be talking to for free information about your consumer rights and, in some cases, further assistance.
By further assistance we mean if you’ve already lodged an official complaint with the trader but there’s been radio silence then you can come back to ECC to assess your case in more detail and, if the case has merit, pass it on to our colleagues in another ECC centre based in the country of the trader. For example, if you’re resident in Ireland and you’ve bought a product that is now faulty from a trader based in France then our colleagues in ECC France will try to make contact with the trader, avoiding the pesky language barrier problem, and hopefully facilitating a satisfactory resolution.
The main consumer issues that fall under ECC Ireland’s remit are air passenger rights (e.g. flight cancellation or delay or lost baggage), car rental (e.g. alleged damage to the vehicle and problems with insurance cover or fuel policy), online shopping (e.g. failure to deliver, payment problems, faulty goods, or the wrong altogether) or holiday accommodation (e.g. problems with online booking, payment, or standard of the accommodation). The list goes on and on but there are certain situations that do not fall under ECC Ireland’s remit and you will have to be referred elsewhere. This includes when the consumer and the trader are both based in Ireland, if it’s a financial service, or a business-to-business contract.
It’s important to note that ECC Ireland does not have enforcement powers and therefore it liaises on behalf of the consumer by firstly reestablishing contact (sometimes it is a simple case of breakdown in communication), outlining the problem, reminding the trader of its obligations under EU legislation, and urging them to resolve the issue amicably.
The main difference between ECC Ireland and CCPC is that the latter is the port of call if you’re resident in Ireland and you have a complaint against a trader that is also based in Ireland. Contacting their help centre is a good place to start to get information and advice on what to do next.
The CCPC is an independent statutory body with a dual mandate to enforce competiton and consumer protection law in Ireland. In terms of consumer rights, it works to empower and equip consumers to make informed choices and assert their rights. It also uses its enforcement and regulatory powers to make markets work better and get best results for consumers, and promotes the benefits of competition and consumer protection through advocacy and public awareness activities.
There is a wealth of information available on the CCPC website. As well as information about your rights when you’re shopping, travelling, or buying a car, it also covers queries in relation to banking, housing, and contracts and services. You’ll find handy financial comparison information, tools and calculators, and tips on how to complain on the website too.
When should you contact the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR)?
The Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) monitors and regulates the laws covering air passengers’ rights. CAR’s website and its flightrights.ie website also has information in relation to air passenger rights. CAR would also be the national enforcement body (NEB) in certain circumstances.
First of all, if you’ve a travel related complaint you should first submit a complaint under Regulation 261/2004 to the air carrier. If the air carrier fails to conclude the matter in accordance with the Regulation or to the satisfaction of the passenger, the complaint should be forwarded to the appropriate NEB.
The NEB of each EU Member State, as well as Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland, is responsible for departures from airports within its territory and arrivals into such airports from third countries on Community-licensed carriers.
For example, CAR would be the appropriate NEB if the affected flight departed from Ireland or arrived in Ireland from outside the EU, Iceland, Norway, or Switzerland on a community-licenced air carrier.
If you’re resident in Ireland and the airline you flew with is based in another EU country, Iceland and Norway, then you can of course seek information and further assistance from ECC Ireland as you will need to show that you have first attempted to resolve the issue with the trader, but to no avail.
Other consumer information resources
- Consumer Association of Ireland (CAI) – The CAI is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation, registered with charitable status and working on behalf of Irish consumers. Its aims are to protect, promote, and represent the interests of consumers. The CAI website is a good information resource. There is a Your Rights section with information in relation to online shopping, shopping in the sales, second-hand goods, air travel, package holidays, and lots of other topics. Check it out to find out more.
- Citizens Information – the Citizens Information website has a great section on consumer protection which gives good overview of consumer rights, consumer complaints, pricing, and product safety and labelling. It also has a pretty comprehensive section on travel and your consumer rights in relation to package holidays, air passenger rights, and airline liability among other things. There are many centres dotted around the country where Citizens Information Officers can help advise and refer you if needed. Alternatively you can contact the Citizens Information phone service on 0761 074000 (Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm).
So you’ve scoured the internet for information, phoned and emailed everyone imagineable to find out about your rights. You may not have got the response from the trader you wanted, or maybe no response at all, or you want to handle the complaint yourself but need a simple procedure to do this. If you feel you have a legitimate complaint under EU and national consumer legislation then there are other options available that will help you keep on fighting the good fight.
Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)
The Online Dispute Resolution platform, developed by the European Commission, offers a single point of entry that allows EU consumers and traders to settle their disputes for both domestic and cross-border online purchases. Essentially you can handle the complaint yourself by going on the platform and lodging the complaint. The trader would then be notified. You are both then given 30 days to agree on a third party independent dispute resolution body. Once agreement on this has been reached the complaint is then sent to the dispute resolution body who has 90 days to find a solution. If a solution is found then you and the trader are informed. You will find more information about ODR here.
European Small Claims Procedure
If you’ve tried everything, including putting a complaint in writing to the trader and seeking the assistance of ECC Ireland, but the trader still hasn’t replied or the response has not been to your satisfaction then there is the European Small Claims Procedure.
This procedure is available to both consumers and traders allowing them to pursue cross-border claims within the national market (except Denmark). The procedure is quite simple and requires a consumer to fill out the ESCP form, pay a small fee of €25, and lodge it with the Registrar in your local district court office. As of July 14, 2017, the limit for claims increased from €2,000 to €5,000. The ECC Ireland press release explains more.
Help available for many other complaints
- Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg): ComReg is the statutory body responsible for the regulation of the electronic communications sector (telecommunications, radio communications, and broadcasting transmission) and the postal sector. So, for example, if you’ve a complaint in relation to internet or mobile phone services (the actual network service), premium rate services, or postal problems then you can ask a question or lodge a complaint to ComReg here.
- Financial Services Ombudsman: The ombudsman is a statutory officer who deals independently with unresolved complaints from consumers about individual dealings with all financial service providers. More information on who may or may not submit a complaint to the ombudsman and how to do it is available here.
- European Car Rental Conciliation Service (ECRCS): The ECRCS helps customers with unresolved complaints concerning cross-border vehicle rentals that are based within Europe and that have subscribed to the scheme. The rental companies that do participate are bound by the decision reached by the conciliation service. Please note that to use this service you must first show that you’ve made attempts to resolve the issue with the trader. You can find information about contacting ECRCS here.
- Garda National Economic Crime Bureau: While ECC Ireland does carry out regular public awarness campaigns about scams and other types of fraud affecting consumers we can only provide information. As fraud is a criminal matter you would have to contact the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau to report it and seek further assistance. The Bureau’s phone number is 01 6663776.
Consumer success story of the month:
An Irish consumer bought a phone on 5th December 2016 from a trader based in the UK and paid by bank transfer. However, when the consumer received the phone he noticed that the phone handset was faulty. The consumer contacted ECC Ireland who informed him of his rights under Directive 1999/44/EC with regards the right to receive a repair or replacement free of charge or a refund if this is unsatisfactory or a delay causes significant inconvenience. The consumer contacted the trader who offered to pick up the product and deliver it to the manufacturer. Unfortunately, the consumer did not hear back from the trader about the progress of the repair/replacement. When the trader persisted in not responding to the consumer’s correspondence, the case was brought to the attention of UK ECC who contacted the trader on his behalf. Following ECC’s intervention, the consumer finally received a refund of €220.
Consumer query of the month:
Q: I purchased a garden tiller from a UK trader 12 months ago but recently I noticed that the pillar is not working and therefore not fit for purpose. I returned the pillar to the trader and got a refund but I didn’t get any reimbursement for the postage costs to return the item. So I contacted the trader again to request a refund of this extra cost which came to €86.10. I was surprised when the trader told me that it was only prepared to refund me the original delivery postage costs, not the cost for sending the faulty item back to them. They also claimed that EU Directive 99/44/EC doesn’t apply because, and I quote, ‘United Kingdom did not sign all the treaties and the Directive does not apply to the United Kingdom’. Is that right? What are my rights here?
A: First of all, the trader was totally incorrect in stating that EU Directive 99/44/EC does not apply to the United Kingdom. This directive has been transposed in the UK national legislation and therefore traders are obligated to adhere to rights of the consumer outlined in it. This may change after Brexit but there is no clear indication as of yet how consumer legislation and the rights of Irish consumers who buy from UK based traders will be affected. Until this has been made clear, which could take considerable time, nothing has changed.
Under Directive 99/44/EC, postage costs should be covered by the trader in the situation where a repair or replacement is being provided and a refund should be offered if a repair or remedies cannot be provided within a reasonable amount of time and without significant inconvenience to the consumer.
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) Ltd, MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7. Company limited by guarantee in Ireland, No. 367035 – Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708.
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.