The Consumer Ombudsman may assist a consumer in court in individual disputes that set a precedent or are otherwise important in terms of consumers' best interests overall.
Similar disputes can be considered as a single matter by the Consumer Complaint Board. A group complaint is a suitable option in cases where consumers doing business with a particular company purchase a product with the same design or manufacturing defect or a service that does not deliver what was agreed upon. A group complaint can also be made when a business has entered into an agreement with several consumers that includes an unfair contract term.
A group complaint is instituted by the Consumer Ombudsman, who submits an application concerning the selected case to the Consumer Complaint Board. A request from a consumer is not necessary; the Consumer Ombudsman may submit the application on her own initiative. In the application, the Consumer Ombudsman defines the group of consumers concerned. It is not necessary to identify specific members of the consumer group by mentioning their names, however. Once the Consumer Complaint Board has made its recommendation, the Consumer Ombudsman assists members of the group to act on it.
The Act on Class Actions entered into force on 1 October 2007. Class action is possible in disputes concerning a defective consumer good or the interpretation of contract terms, for example. The Act also applies to disputes between consumers and entrepreneurs concerning the selling and marketing of investment products and insurance, such as pension insurance, endowment insurance and mutual funds.
Consumer disputes involving share issues are not covered by the Act on Class Actions, however, because matters that concern issuing of securities and public bidding procedures are excluded.
Only the Consumer Ombudsman can file for class action and represent the plaintiffs. This serves to prevent malicious lawsuits from being filed.
Class actions give more weight to the new group complaint procedure that was introduced in March 2007 for the Consumer Complaint Board. If a recommendation in response to a group complaint is not complied with, the Consumer Ombudsman has the option to take the matter to court as a class action.
For a matter to be handled as a class action, several persons must have a claim against the same defendant based on the same, or similar, grounds. In addition, class action should be an expedient means to proceed, and the class should be exactly defined. Members must opt in to participate in a class action.