According to the law, the Consumer Ombudsman must be active in areas that are of substantial importance for consumers or where problems are common. A key principle of supervision is to determine what kind of prioritisation and methods can best benefit consumers. Consumer Ombudsman must maintain an operational focus on sectors of considerable importance to consumers or where problems affecting the status of consumers can be assumed to be most common.
The Consumer Ombudsman prioritises matters to be considered for monitoring based on:
- the topic
- the significance of the matter
- the available remedies and
In order to focus on sectors and issues that are relevant to the consumer, the Consumer Ombudsman monitors and analyses, among other things, the following:
- significant society-wide phenomena affecting the position of consumers
- cases reported by consumers. The Consumer Ombudsman and Consumer Advisory Services receive tens of thousands of enquiries each year. All enquiries are kept on file and used in the Consumer Ombudsman’s supervisory work
- The EU Consumer Markets Scoreboard, which includes a consumer survey covering 50 sectors
- changes in legislation and the establishment of new legislation in practice
- the impact on consumers of changes in the structure, competition, pricing, contractual terms and customer service practices of different sectors.
Prioritisation principles in the monitoring of cases
The Consumer Ombudsman assesses the extent and impact of potential cases based on the following criteria.
- The phenomenon affects a large number of consumers.
- The phenomenon is of great economic importance to consumers.
- The phenomenon requires safeguarding the position of a vulnerable consumer group.
- The phenomenon concerns a service that is absolutely essential for citizens.
- The phenomenon harms consumers in other ways and, if widespread, would weaken the position or rights of consumers.
- Contributing to resolution practice that guides the interpretation of new legislation.
- Examining a new legal question.
- A business is failing to observe an existing ban or commitment.
- A business continues to act in breach of consumer protection legislation despite previous interventions.
- A business has engaged in egregious violation of the law and demonstrates wilful negligence of the principles of consumer protection.
The Consumer Ombudsman has a duty to negotiate, i.e. matters are primarily handled by negotiation. If the business cannot be persuaded to abandon its unlawful practice through negotiation, the Consumer Ombudsman must proceed to use other remedies where necessary. The Consumer Ombudsman selects the remedy that leads to the best possible impact with the available resources.
Possible alternatives include e.g.
- sending an instruction to the business or the entire sector in question
- requesting action from the EU’s Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) network
- promoting consumer skills
- cooperation and advocacy with the relevant trade organisation to change businesses’ practices by, for example, developing policies or standardised agreements
- requesting clarification from the business
- requesting an undertaking from the business
- Market Court application
- penalty fee
- intervening in illegal online content
- assisting the consumer in court
- collective complaint
- class action