Brussels, 3 August 2009
European Consumer Centres – transport remains the number one problem sector for consumers, accounting for one third of complaints
The European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) handles over 62.000 contacts with EU consumers who turn to them for advice or for help with problems affecting cross-border shopping, both in person and online. The European Commission supports the network and today published the ECC-Net Annual Report for 2008, which saw a 22% increase in the number of Consumers turning to them directly for help. In 2008 most complaints tackled by ECCs concerned transport (33%, of which 80% related to air transport), recreational services (25%) and hotels and restaurants (13%). The problems concerned product and service (25%), delivery (18%), contract terms (16%), and unfair commercial practices (14%). Over half of the problems reported referred to online shopping. The report highlights many examples of how the centres have helped individual consumers, provides information on joint projects, such as on air passenger rights, and also includes summaries of activity per country.
EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said: "It is during recessions that consumers are most vulnerable to the appeal of suspiciously cheap offers and falsely attractive promotions. When they fall victim to a scam in another country, problems multiply. What matters is not just the consumer laws in place, but that consumers can benefit from these laws in their daily lives, whether at home or abroad. I want to reassure them that when a trader violates their rights while they are shopping in another EU country, the ECCs are there to help them".
Vice President Antonio Tajani, in charge of Transport said "I am not surprised that transport is the sector in which European Consumer Centres are more frequently asked questions. Transport is a sector which is by definition cross-border. I am personally very happy that air passengers are more and more aware of their rights under Community law and they use European Consumer Centres to have their rights respected and enforced. I have made passenger rights one of my top priorities and I'll ensure that passenger rights will be into force in all modes of transport as soon as possible"
The European Consumer Centres – direct help to consumers
An Irish consumer hired a car in France, returned it to the car hire company at the end of the rental period, and the car was checked by all parties and confirmed it had no problem. Later on, an employee from another car hire company crashed into the consumer’s hired car. Some days later, the consumer discovered that he had been charged €310 for the damage. After almost a year exchanging correspondence, the issue remained unresolved and the consumer asked ECC Ireland for help. Following the intervention of the ECCs in Ireland and France, the trader returned the full amount which had been charged for the damage.
ECCs help consumers to use out-of-court solutions to problems with a trader. In 2008, the ECCs work in guiding consumers to such schemes increased by 40 %. ECCs also review key issues relevant to consumers, so that their experience can be fed back into policy initiatives and enforcement of the rules. In 2008, they reviewed air passenger rights complaints, the European online marketplace, and organised campaigns on consumer rights, for example in the energy market.
One of the tangible products of the ECCs' joint work is 'Howard' the online shopping assistant. It is a web tool which helps online shoppers to avoid fraudulent web traders, find serious web traders, and get good advice on shopping online.
Main services of the ECCs
The services provided to consumers by the ECC-Net concentrate on problems consumers have with traders when shopping cross-border, either in person or via distance purchase (mainly online):
The ECC-Net advises consumers on their rights in cross-border shopping. It also provides information on both EU and national consumer rules.
The ECC contacted by the consumer works together with the ECC of the country where the product or service was bought.
Mostly the ECC-Net helps consumers reach an amicable solution with the trader.
ECCs provide advice on out-of-court settlement for consumers who could not reach an agreement with the trader.
Consumers can ask ECCs for help either by visiting or calling the centre or by using an on-line complaint form available in all languages on the ECC websites.
The ECC-Net cooperates with other EU-wide networks, such as SOLVIT, which addresses problems arising from misapplication of internal market rules by national authorities, and FIN-NET – an out-of-court network for financial services.
In 2008 most complaints tackled by ECCs concerned the following sectors: transport (33 %), recreational services (25 %) and hotels and restaurants (13 %). In the transport sector, 80 % of problems concerned air transport (delays, cancellation, luggage problems). In general, the bulk of complaints relate to dissatisfaction with products or services – 25 % (defects – 44 %, non-conformity with the order – 30 %, unsafe products – 9 %). The second most common problem concerned delivery – 18% (delayed – 15 %, partial delivery 7 %). The third most common problem concerned contract terms – 16 % (rescission of contract – 60 %, cooling-off period not respected – 21%). 47 % of complaints concerned online purchases, and 24 % concerned other distance selling methods such as mail orders (15 % more than in 2007).
For further information on ECCs including access to your own country's ECC:
Success stories of complaints resolved by the ECC-Net:
ECC-Net joint projects: