P R E S S R E L E A S E
07 SEPTEMBER 2021
On 7 September 2021, the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland published its latest Annual Report detailing its activities and consumer complaints received from Irish and European consumers in relation to their European Union consumer rights over the course of the year 2020.
Last year, ECC Ireland’s team of case handlers dealt with a total of 8,035 consumer queries. Over April-June 2020 alone, the organisation’s case numbers tripled compared with the same months in 2019, with the single biggest contribution to this increase consisting of COVID-19 travel cancellations. Air travel issues, accommodation problems and online shopping difficulties accounted for the bulk of complaints received by ECC Ireland in a COVID-19-dominated year:
Most consumers who submitted complaints in relation to cross-border transactions to ECC Ireland last year were able to resolve their disputes directly with the traders after receiving information and assistance from ECC Ireland’s legal experts. Where direct intervention by ECC Ireland staff on behalf of consumers was required, the organisation’s amicable solution rate in 2020 was 70%.
In 2020, as in previous years, air passenger issues accounted for more than half (64%) of the total number of complaints received by ECC Ireland, and an increase of 130% compared to 2019. At the very beginning of the pandemic, there were 5,000 complaints from consumers all over Europe against Irish airlines specifically. ECC Ireland succeeded in mass-resolving 4,000 of these complaints at source, by ensuring refunds would be operated by the airlines at the earliest opportunity, and within an extended yet reasonable deadline.
The main driver for the unprecedented demand for ECC Ireland’s services was the issue of travel restrictions, particularly flight cancellations, over the first part of last year. In the immediate aftermath of the first 2020 travel restrictions, a number of large international and national businesses operating in the aviation and travel industries became unresponsive when it came to consumer rights claims or, indeed, sanctions by consumer rights enforcement bodies.
By far the biggest issue over the second part of 2020 involved air passengers receiving vouchers instead of cash refunds, which, under European Union consumer law, must be operated within 7 days of the flight cancellation and only with the passenger’s express agreement. Rules also state that vouchers must be valid for up to 12 months, at which point they should be able to be cashed in. In many cases, however, airlines extended vouchers’ validity further into 2021 instead of operating refunds, which were unreasonably delayed or simply refused. For third-party bookings, the refund process took even longer as refunds had to be transferred from airlines to the passengers via the intermediaries, many of which made life particularly hard for passengers impacted by COVID-19 cancellations.
Air travel generated most of the consumer complaints received by ECC Ireland and the members of its parent organisation, the European Consumer Centre Network (Ecc-Net) over the course of last year. By the end of 2020, ECC Ireland and its sister offices across the EU Member States, Norway and Iceland secured cancelled flight reimbursements for Irish and EU passengers in the amount of over EUR 4m last year.
Another aspect that emanated quickly from the COVID-19 crisis was the scarcity of certain goods available within the EU, and the increasing
reliance of consumers on e-commerce during the pandemic. This led to intensive shopping from non-EU jurisdictions with less regulated or
non-applicable consumer protections. The pandemic also revealed the impossibility of many EU businesses to ensure stock supplies, as well as consumer protections. Coupled with the frequent imposition of transport stoppages and unprecedented disruption on shipping routes
and supply chains, the enforcement of consumer protections was a gruelling task in 2020 overall.
ECC Ireland’s annual report highlights the fact that 2020 will prove to be a historic year in the organisation’s activities to date, as well as in our shared history as Europeans and members of the global community. 2020 will also be remembered as a seminal year in terms of consumer protection — another reason for the dramatic situation that unfolded over the last year and well into 2021 was that, due to the novel nature of pandemic-induced disruptions, some of the legislation at European Union level did not prescribe for consumer remedies in these situations. The state of affairs was further influenced by the consequences of some EU Members States’ enacting of emergency national legislation, which precluded the application of EU-level consumer rights protections. It is why the upcoming EU consumer instruments due to come into force in 2021-2022 will aim to address the legacy of the Coronavirus pandemic and empower individual consumers to claim their entitlements while creating adequate institutional enforcement strategies, including enhanced cross-border cooperation, all of which will lead to a more seamless and effective enforcement of consumer rights across the countries of the European Union and the European Economic Area.
The European Consumer Centre’s Annual Report 2020 can be accessed here.
The European Consumer Centre Ireland provides information, advice, education and outreach programmes on consumer rights and entitlements stemming from the European Union consumer protection legislation. It assists consumers by providing free-of-charge expert assistance with resolving cross-border consumer complaints within the EU and the European Economic Area.
ECC Ireland provides consumers with detailed information on in- and out-of-court procedures available for their cross-border complaints; refers consumers to the appropriate out-of-court entity for services such as mediation, arbitration and conciliation aimed at resolving consumer-trader disputes; advises consumers on the appropriate national or European court for consumer claims.