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Brussels, 12 October 2010

European Consumer Centres - 5 years at the service of European consumers

Have you ever ordered online, paid for the goods and never received them? Then the European Consumer Centre can be of help to you. Between 2005 and 2009, the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) handled almost 270.000 contacts with EU consumers who turned to them for advice or help on cross-border shopping, according to the ECC-Net 5th anniversary report published by the European Commission today. The number of annual contacts has been rising steadily, from about 43.000 in 2005 to over 60.000 in 2009. The annual value of amicable settlements of complaints with traders (in reimbursements and compensation for consumers) reached € 3.5 million in 2008. The European Commission and Member States co-finance the ECC-Net which offers consumers free legal advice and assistance in every EU country as well as Norway and Iceland. Online purchases continue to be the main source of complaints for cross-border consumers: in 2009 they represented more than half (55.9%) of all complaints received.

Speaking to ECC Directors at the launch of the report earlier today, EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said: "The European Consumer Centres provide an important safety net for EU consumers who want to seize the opportunities offered by the internal market by looking for better value and greater choice across borders. Thanks to this unique network, they can get effective and free assistance in their own country and their own language no matter where else in the EU they had a problem". To conclude: "When people ask what the EU is doing concretely for consumers, the work of the ECC-Net can be proudly cited as a prime example”.

The network of European Consumer Centres

A Czech consumer ordered several CDs from a Danish online shop, paid by credit card, but never received the goods. The trader promised to send the goods within a week, then two weeks, and then said the delivery would take longer. The consumer asked for his money back, but received no reply. The consumer contacted the Czech ECC who asked their Danish partners for help. The trader made a full refund, after ECC Denmark's approach.

The above is an example of a typical complaint handled daily by the network of 29 European Consumer Centres. ECCs exist in every EU country plus Norway and Iceland. They provide free information and advice to citizens shopping cross-border and help with their complaints when something goes wrong.

The ECCs regularly achieve amicable settlements of complaints (48% in 2009). When no amicable settlement is possible, the complaint is typically transferred to other bodies, such as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) bodies or the national enforcement agencies. The ECCs also disseminate information proactively, including tips and fact sheets for consumers on popular topics, such as renting a car in another EU country. Another product of the ECCs' joint work is 'Howard' the online shopping assistant: a web tool to help online shoppers avoid fraudulent web traders and get advice about shopping online.

ECC 5-Year Report (2005-2009): main findings

  • In 2009, more than half (55.9%) of all complaints received by ECCs concerned online transactions. The remaining contacts were for information and advice.

  • The sectors which ECC clients complained about most were: transport (30.6% of complaints in 2009), recreation and culture (26.2%) as well as restaurants and accommodation (13.3%).

  • Among the complaints on transport services, more than three out of four (75.6%) concerned air transport, e.g. refunds and compensations for cancelled flights or lost luggage.

  • The problems reported by ECC clients concerned mostly: the quality or characteristics of the goods or services themselves, (29% in 2009) their delivery (21%), such as non-delivery or delayed delivery, and the contract terms (18%), e.g. concerning the terms of ending the contract.

  • There has been a decrease in complaints about unfair commercial practices and selling techniques.

The report was presented to Members of the European Parliament at a special exhibition of the ECC Net yesterday in Brussels.

More information on ECCs including the full text of the 5-year report and on Howard the online shopping assistant:

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