Päivi Hentunen, Director General of consumer affairs of the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority, is the current Consumer Ombudsman.
The Consumer Ombudsman can delegate authority to subordinate civil servants in matters where interpretation of the law has become standardised. The Consumer Ombudsman can also order the subordinate civil servant to use her right to speak or to assist the consumer in court.
The most essential responsibility of the Consumer Ombudsman is to supervise that the Consumer Protection Act and other laws passed to protect consumers are observed. Particular attention is paid to ensuring that marketing activities, contractual terms, and collection activities conform to the laws. The goal of the supervisory activities is to have the company cease or alter its marketing activities or unreasonable contractual terms so that they conform to current legislation.
The Consumer Ombudsman does not primarily resolve individual disputes where the consumer is seeking reimbursement for an error with a product or service. These cases are handled by consumer rights advisors and the Consumer Disputes Board.
The Consumer Ombudsman may, however, aid the consumer as he or she sees necessary in resolving an individual dispute, if its resolution carries a significant impact on the interpretation of the law or the general well-being of consumers or in instances where the business is not compliant with the decision of the Consumer Disputes Board.
The Consumer Ombudsman may also refer group complaints to the Consumer Disputes Board for resolution or initiate class actions.
Courses of action
The Consumer Ombudsman receives annually thousands of claims and communications from consumers, companies, other officials and associations. They are all processed and recorded in the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority’s information system. The Consumer Ombudsman uses the obtained information in selecting which issues to supervise. The Consumer Ombudsman may also intervene on issues she has identified on her own. Identified problems are often handled as larger entities where several problems are addressed at once.
According to law, the Consumer Ombudsman must be particularly active in areas that are of substantial importance to consumers or where problems can be presumed common to consumers. The focuses of the supervisory activities are to vary between different industries. The current Consumer policy programme also affects what areas the Consumer Ombudsman focuses on during a specific time-period.
Supervisory methods of the Consumer Ombudsman
The primary goal of the Consumer Ombudsman activities is to influence the business that is non-compliant with the law to cease such activities or alter them voluntarily.
If the company cannot be persuaded to cease the unlawful activities, the Consumer Ombudsman must take the necessary enforcement actions or refer the issue to the court for resolution. In practise, these situations are subject to imposing a prohibition reinforced with a penalty payment. The prohibition is ordered by the Market Court, based on the application submitted by the Consumer Ombudsman. The Market Court may also order a temporary prohibition, where it is in force until the matter has been fully resolved.
The Consumer Ombudsman may order a prohibition in issues that are not significant for interpretation of the law or otherwise significant. The prohibition is voided if the company provides notification within the allowed time-period that it opposes the imposition of the prohibition.
The Consumer Ombudsman may issue a temporary prohibition if the actions of the company need to be ceased urgently, due to the scope of the issue or its quick impact. A temporary prohibition becomes effective immediately, but the matter must be submitted to the Market Court within three days for validation.
The Market Court and the Consumer Ombudsman may each impose a penalty payment with the prohibition order. If the company continues its unlawful activities despite the prohibition order, the Consumer Ombudsman may file for the payment order of the penalty payment at the Market Court.
Market Court rulings can be appealed to the Finnish Supreme Court.