Consumer Ombudsman intervenes in aggressive door-to-door selling

The number of consumer complaints related to door-to-door selling, in particular the door-to-door selling of renovation and repair services, has increased over the last few years. Many of the complaints are related to aggressive conduct, for example, sales presentations that last for hours with the salesperson refusing to leave the consumer’s home despite the consumer’s requests. There have also been problems related to how consumers are informed of their right of withdrawal or the lack of it. Elderly consumers have often been targeted. The Consumer Ombudsman has discussed issues related to door-to-door selling with five companies and required that they correct their conduct.

For consumers, door-to-door selling is in many ways an exceptional situation, because consumers are usually the instigators who decide that they want to make a purchase. Door-to-door selling of renovations is related to consumers making major decisions that usually require careful consideration. Considering the financial significance that renovations have for consumers, the nature of door-to-door selling as a potentially unexpected event and the fast decision-making ability typically expected from consumers in such situations, businesses should above all respect consumers’ wishes to consider their decisions.

The Consumer Ombudsman has been clarifying door-to-door selling methods with Ideko Oy, Suomen Lämpöikkuna Oy, Pohjolan Energia Oy, Kotisun Oy and RestaKoti Oy and required that they commit to correcting their problematic conduct. The issues tackled by the Consumer Ombudsman vary depending on the company.

Businesses must take the consumer’s age into account

Based on the consumer complaints about questionable door-to-door selling methods, the targeted consumers seem mainly to have been elderly consumers, who may have difficulties understanding the content of the contracts they make and who, due to their age and poor health, may find it difficult to refuse to conclude a contract in a situation in which they feel pressured.

According to the Consumer Protection Act, aggressive actions, such as pressuring a consumer in such a way that leads to the consumer making a purchase decision that he or she would not otherwise have made, are deemed to be inappropriate and prohibited conduct. This is typically the case when a consumer’s tiredness, illness or decrepitude is exploited and the consumer is exhausted in order to conclude a contract.

The Consumer Ombudsman stated that Suomen Lämpöikkuna Oy, Ideko Suomi Oy and KotiSun Oy had violated the Consumer Protection Act’s provisions in their dealings with elderly consumers and with their aggressive conduct.

Consumers must be informed about their right of withdrawal or the lack of it

In addition, businesses must provide consumers with clear information on the consumer’s right of withdrawal, its scope or the lack of such a right. This had not been done in the cases processed by the Consumer Ombudsman.

The legal provision according to which a contract on products manufactured or modified according to the consumer’s wishes or otherwise clearly made to correspond to the consumer’s individual needs has proven to be particularly problematic. The Consumer Ombudsman has discovered several contract terms, used by various companies, in which the exception is applied contrary to law, either to service contracts or to so-called standard items that have not been modified in a manner defined in the legal provision. Additionally, in cases to which the provision actually does apply, consumers are often provided with incomplete information on the lack of their right of withdrawal, or they are not informed at all.

Contracts concerning renovations are often mixed-purpose contracts, such as when consumers purchase kitchen fittings and the related installation work from a business. In this case, the main purpose of the contract will be evaluated, and this purpose will also determine whether the business can restrict the right of withdrawal and on what grounds that can be done.

The Consumer Ombudsman has provided the five above-mentioned companies with instructions related to these issues. The cases were also partly related to warranties, liabilities for defects and contract terms and conditions related to advance payments. The Consumer Ombudsman is expecting the companies to reply to the requests to commitments during the summer.

According to the Consumer Ombudsman, it is good that the New Deal for Consumers, a legislation package published by the European Commission in April, will potentially result in the renewal of legislation applicable to door-to-door selling, and the Consumer Ombudsman feels that it would be important that consumers could be better protected from inappropriate conduct related to door-to-door selling.

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