The most prevalent topics in the complaints received by consumer authorities in 2018 were related to cars and renovations, as has been the case in previous years. Telephone and door-to-door sales also caused numerous problems for consumers.
In 2018, around 63,300 reports were recorded in the joint database of the Consumer Advisory Services and the Consumer Ombudsman. These include phone calls and online reports to the Consumer Advisory Services as well as written supervision tips and different inquiries to the Consumer Ombudsman. The number of reports decreased by 8 per cent from the previous year, as there has been a reduction in the number of consumer advisors who provide assistance with disputes between consumers and companies, and the demand for the phone service has not been met as well as during previous years. This congestion was slightly eased with the help of the Consumer Advisory Services’ Complaint Assistant, which helps consumers submit written complaints to companies. The Assistant’s guidelines helped around 16,000 consumers during the year, which is around 2,000 consumers more than in 2017.
Telephone and door-to-door sales are problematic sales methods
The most common complaints remained the same as in previous years. Over a quarter of all reports concerned vehicles, around a tenth focused on renovations, and a tenth on housing, i.e. housing sales and rental housing.
Even though the majority of reports concerned sales transactions in shops, the shares of door-to-door sales and telephone sales have increased during the last few years. The issues behind these often stem from the fact that both door-to-door and telephone sales occur suddenly and leave consumers with no opportunity to prepare beforehand or compare the different options that are available to them. This means that the consumer may make a deal without having enough time to think it over.
Telephone sale complaints focused especially on sales related to electricity, phone and internet subscriptions, natural products, dietary supplements, vitamins and magazines. Door-to-door sale reports focused especially on the aggressive tactics used in the sale of renovations. Renovation sales have focused especially on elderly individuals who may have difficulties in understanding the contents of the agreement that they are about to sign and may feel that they are unable to refuse signing the agreement due to the high-pressure situation that they are being subjected to. Consumers were also provided with insufficient or misleading information on their right to cancellation.
“Door-to-door and telephone sales feature similar issues. Consumers are placed in a surprising situation and are provided with unclear information on their right to cancellation or none at all. Consumers should always be provided with a real chance to think things over. Current legislation should be re-evaluated on the basis of these facts,” notes Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen.
In 2018, the Consumer Ombudsman evaluated the activities of five door-to-door sales companies and mandated the companies to fix the issues and illegalities that were highlighted during the evaluation. These companies, as well as other companies that focus on door-to-door sales, are still being monitored, and measures will be taken whenever necessary to stop any unlawful methods. Consumers are encouraged to report any inappropriate telephone and door-to-door sales tactics to the Consumer Advisory Services.
The problems related to door-to-door sales may be alleviated with the help of the European Commission’s “New Deal for Consumers”, which is a legislative package that was published in April 2018 and contains recommendations for the reform of the rules related to door-to-door sales activities.
The regulation of telephone sales is included in the ePrivacy Regulation that is currently being prepared. It will mandate that consent must be requested from consumers before a telephone sales pitch may take place. Member states will also have the opportunity to implement the regulations in a way that consumers will have the right to forbid all telephone sale activities.
The Consumer Ombudsman has demanded for several years that telephone sales should not be conducted without prior consent from the consumer. Another option provided by legislation is that a deal that is made on the phone should be confirmed separately in writing. This type of regulation is used in 18 EU countries, for example in the Netherlands, Spain, France and Estonia.
Consumer report statistics for 2018
Consumer Advisory Services can be contacted with an online consumer services form.
The Reclamation Assistant helps create a written complaint to the seller
The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority maintains the consumer administration database that is used to record the reports received by the Consumer Advisory Services and the Consumer Ombudsman. The Consumer Advisory Services is a national service that provides instructions, advice and mediation assistance for consumers in disputes between consumers and companies. The Consumer Advisory Services was moved under the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority at the start of 2019.