29 March 2010
According to the recently released EU Consumer Markets Scoreboard, compared to other EU citizens, Finns trust consumer authorities more and more readily submit complaints of consumer issues.
The European Commission has today published its Consumer Markets Scoreboard, which compares the functionality of the markets in different member countries from the consumers' perspective. The purpose of the scoreboard is to identify consumer issues and market problems by, for example, examining consumer complaints and determining how consumers feel their rights are being realised. The Finnish Consumer Agency participated in the development of the scoreboard's indicators and in the collection of information for them.
There are vast differences between member countries in how much faith consumers have in the authorities in their countries and the ability of the authorities to enforce their rights. Based on the scoreboard, within the EU, satisfaction with the actions of the consumer authorities is highest among Finns. Luxembourgers came in second while the Danes and Britons share third place.
Another indication of the functionality of a market is how often consumers submit complaints to companies concerning problems they have faced. According to the scoreboard, Finns are more active than average in this respect. While in the entire EU four per cent of consumers did not issue a complaint even if they had reason to do so, in Finland the corresponding number was less than two per cent.
Among Finnish consumers, the belief that companies, too, will respect their rights is second highest in the EU. The scoreboard shows that, on an EU-wide level, this trust is not always well-grounded. 83 per cent of companies in the EU countries evaluated themselves as being well aware of consumer legislation but only a fourth of the companies knew the regulations concerning the returns of faulty products. Misleading advertisements and discounts were identified by more than half of the consumers but by less than 30 per cent of the companies.
Shortcomings in the grasp of various basic issues also reflect on the Consumer Agency's operations. In 2009, the agency was contacted approx. 5,800 times with regard to issues concerning marketing or agreement terms. Roughly half of the complaints related to basic faults in marketing and agreement conditions: an advert gave incorrect information about a product or its price, a discount product ran out, the content of an agreement was radically changed during the agreement period, or a customer was bound to a fixed-term agreement without his or her knowledge. Problems were discovered equally in traditional areas and in newer service solutions, such as dating services and waste water systems.
The scoreboard showed particularly notable differences between member countries in the number of companies against which consumer authorities have initiated legal measures. The numbers varied between Hungary's and Romania's 49 per cent to Finland's five per cent. These dramatic differences can be explained by the different systems used in each individual country. In Finland, the Consumer Agency cannot separately contact each company. Instead, it handles a large part of the cases through trade associations and by informing the companies.
Consumer Markets Scoreboards have previously been published in January 2008 and February 2009. The next scoreboard is intended to be released next autumn. It will address the most significant problem areas in the markets of the member countries. The Consumer Markets Scoreboard is part of a larger scoreboard (The Single Market Scoreboard).