Consumer Advisory Services helped almost 86,000 consumers last year

Most of the enquiries and complaints received by the Consumer Ombudsman and national Consumer Advisory Services in 2014 concerned vehicles, housing as well as household appliances and electronics. Correspondence relating to health products and electricity increased the most.

The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority’s Consumer Ombudsman and Local Register Offices’ national Consumer Advisory Services received almost 92,000 enquiries and complaints in 2014. Consumer Advisory Services dealt with approximately 86,000 of these. The number of enquiries and complaints increased by more than 1,000 compared to the year 2013. The number of enquiries and complaints addressed to the Consumer Ombudsman, on the other hand, decreased by almost 2,500. These are positive changes, as the aim has been to encourage customers to primarily contact Consumer Advisory Services, which can provide personalised advice.

The most common topic of correspondence was vehicles, which were the subject of just under one fifth of all enquiries and complaints (15,797). The next most common topics were housing (8,907) and household appliances and electronics (8,419). The same topics have remained the most common for several years.

With regard to vehicles as well as electronics and household appliances, problems mostly related to the quality of goods and services or to warranties and defects. Correspondence concerning housing mostly related to faults or to contracts and property sales.

The number of enquiries and complaints concerning telecommunications services, such as mobile telephone and broadband subscriptions, also remained high similar to previous years (7,563). Most problems related to contracts and sales. According to a survey carried out by the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority and the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority in 2014, customers rarely have an opportunity to review the terms and conditions of mobile telephone subscriptions at the point of sale before signing a contract. Some customers are not given a copy of the terms and conditions of contract at all.

Enquiries and complaints relating to health and electricity on the increase

Compared to the year 2013, correspondence relating to health and well-being products and electricity increased the most. One reason for the increase relating to health products is the marketing of weight loss and vitamin products by means of so-called subscription traps. These are online advertisements that lead consumers to think that they are ordering a product sample of a test kit when they are in fact being tied into a fixed-term contract against their will. Subscription traps are also common in the marketing of lingerie, cosmetics and online dating services.

Correspondence concerning electricity mostly related to electricity telesales. Consumers had received unjustified and ambiguous bills and run into problems when trying to cancel their contracts. The techniques used by some telemarketers had also been aggressive and misleading.

Consumers are not always clear on what different consumer authorities – the Consumer Ombudsman, Consumer Advisory Services and the Consumer Disputes Board – do and which authority they should contact with different issues. This is why consumer authorities have been working on a nationwide operating model based on the one-stop-shop principle. This means that consumers do not need to know which authority they require and instead contact the Consumer Advisory Services. The authorities ensure that the consumer’s enquiry is forwarded to the right place.

A survey commissioned by the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy from the Consumer Society Research Centre in 2013 indicates that Consumer Advisory Services are perceived as important and necessary. A total of 80% of the respondents were satisfied with the way Consumer Advisory Services had dealt with them and 92% would recommend Consumer Advisory Services to their friends.