Brussels, 12 May 2010
Consumers: EU-wide complaints reporting to speed up policy response to failing markets
Today, the European Commission adopted a recommendation introducing an EU-wide method for classifying and reporting consumer complaints to be used by complaint bodies on a voluntary basis. The method is expected to deliver comparable complaints data that will provide crucial evidence as to which parts of the Internal Market are underperforming for EU consumers. This, in turn, will allow for a quicker and better targeted policy response at both national and EU level. Consumer complaints are a key indicator of market health. There are more than 700 organisations handling consumer complaints in Europe. But they use different classifications. As a result, comparison and overview are not possible, even at the national level. To facilitate the adoption of the method, the Commission will provide technical assistance such as free software.
EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said: "If large numbers of consumers complain about the same problem, this should set the alarm bells ringing in national capitals and in Brussels. But today, we may not be getting the message early or clearly enough". He added "Thanks to this initiative, when consumers are facing problems in their daily lives, decision-makers will know about it better and faster".
Today, the Commission has recommended a standardised way of collecting and reporting consumer complaints, using a common set of criteria. Including
product category (e.g. an airline ticket, electricity, or a bank account).
type of complaint (e.g. quality, price, safety, delivery).
The method is intended to be used by bodies collecting complaints, such as national consumer authorities, consumer organisations, ombudsmen or regulators. These organisations will opt in to the system and to sending their data to the Commission. The Commission would then make the aggregate data public through the Consumer Markets Scoreboard.
A recent public consultation has shown that there is clear support for the common approach among potential users. Almost 86% of those who responded to the question said that they were interested in adopting the method.
Why do consumer complaints matter?
A consumer complaint is a hard fact which is a sign of a possible systematic problem in the market. Complaints are one of the five key indicators used by the Consumer Markets Scoreboard of how markets are performing for consumers, along with consumer satisfaction, prices, consumer choice (switching suppliers) and safety.
Consumer complaints may sometimes be only the tip of the iceberg, suggesting that problems in the market concerned may run more deeply. The latest data1 show that, out of the total number of consumers who have had problems with a trader, almost one in three did not even complain to the trader. Of those who did, only half were satisfied with the way their complaints were dealt with. And of those consumers who were still dissatisfied, less than one in three (27%) approached a complaint body.
Why an EU-wide approach?
A Commission' study found that there are over 700 third-party organisations collecting consumer complaints in the EU. Some have advanced and large-scale classification methods. Yet, complaint bodies around Europe use different methods. This makes it impossible to see the bigger picture even at the national level, let alone the European level. This is despite the fact that the goods and services on offer across the EU are similar and a fair number of them are traded across borders. The lack of comparable data holds back the appropriate policy response, both at national and the European level.
Who will benefit?
EU consumers: the accuracy and time needed for policy makers and regulators to respond to consumers' daily concerns should be reduced. As the data will be directly comparable across the EU, this will allow a faster, better targeted, evidence-based policy response at the EU or the national level to real problems experienced by consumers.
National authorities and regulators should be able to respond better to emerging trends, thanks to a more complete picture of their own markets, and easier comparisons with other countries.
Non-governmental consumer organisations, some of which now lack the resources to develop their own systems and to influence consumer policy upstream, will benefit from the availability of an off-the-shelf method and of comparable data.
The next steps:
A high-level conference will be held on 27 May with interested national experts and policymakers. They will exchange views on the best approach to implementing the harmonised method in practice and the best ways to integrate insights from consumer complaints into policy making.
In order to facilitate data transfer, the Commission will provide technical assistance, such as free software.
For more details:
For technical assistance: SANCOfirstname.lastname@example.org
Flash Eurobarometer 282, "Attitudes towards cross-border sales and consumer protection", March 2010.