Complaints increasing at the European Consumer Centre

A total of 3,900 consumers contacted the European Consumer Centre Finland in 2016. There were about 1,000 more contacts than in 2015. Of the contacts in 2016, about 3,000 were complaints and the rest, or about 1,000, more general enquiries. The enquiries also included complaints in cases where the purchase was made outside the EU. The top 3 in the list of complaints about online purchases consisted of subscription traps: flight delays and cancellations, and clothing purchases. Finnish consumers’ financial losses, totalling EUR 106,000 were collected through negotiations with traders.

The European Consumer Centre Finland provides information about consumer protection within the EU; advice and instructions to consumers; and in some cases through contacting the trader on behalf of the consumer when he has a problem with a company located in another EU country, Iceland or Norway.

Complaint statistics for 2016 are found at the end of this article, and we have compiled our observations about their content and trends.

Top three of online purchases: subscription traps, flight delays, and clothing purchases

In 2016, the highest number of complaints concerned subscription traps (960), a figure much higher than in 2015. Traps attracting Finnish consumers originated mainly from companies located in Estonia and Denmark. Amicable settlements in such cases were rare.

Another sector that brought in several hundred complaints was aviation, mainly flight delays and cancellations. The number of complaints increased by 43% from 2015. Low-cost airlines in particular refused to negotiate on standard compensations in 2016, but insisted that the cases be handed over systematically to the supervisory authorities wherever the delay or cancellation took place, and in the case of flights from outside the EU, to the supervisory authorities in the flight’s destination country. This slows down complaint processing considerably, undermining consumer’s trust that their rights are fulfilled.

For the second year running, also complaints about clothing and footwear are in the top three. These increased by 18% from the previous year. Of the 164 cases, 115 related to clothing and 49 to footwear. Problems related to a defect in the ordered product or that a product that had been paid for was never delivered. The number of complaints concerning footwear does not include campaigns that were subscription traps in nature, offering, say, Nike running shoes at a price of 2 euros, because the service being sold is always something other than the shoes promised by the advertisement.

Complaints about package tours were down by 57% on the previous year. This can be explained by the fact that Estonian travel agent Top10 caused a spike in the number of complaints in 2015 when it refused to compensate to Finnish consumers for payment they had made for package tours when Norwegian travel agent GO International was declared bankrupt in February 2015. The matter was resolved in late 2016 by a decision of the Helsinki District Court, stating that the Estonian company was obliged to refund the payments.

Many car sales disputes cannot be resolved outside court – and without high risk

The sale of used cars and their spare parts, tyres in particular, always feature regularly among complaints. Complaints regarding defects in used cars bought in Germany rarely lead to an amicable settlement.

Consumers are advised to find out in advance what their rights and obligations are in each car sale, to acquire expertise in terms of understanding the documentation, test drive and inspection and to ensure that they get all the accessories and vehicle documentation. German consumers must as a rule defend their rights in terms of car sales in courts – a custom which Finns are reluctant to adopt when the car has been bought abroad.

Complaints regarding accommodation services are clearly on the rise. Untidy hotel rooms, services promised but never delivered, disturbance. Complaints have been made about hotels and websites presenting them. Claims have also been made against the Irish company that maintains the Airbnb website.

Of all the complaints during 2016 567 were processed through the ECC network. A total of 462 were closed during the year. Of these, 279 cases ended in an amicable settlement, while 52 did not. 53 cases were submitted to an out-of-court dispute resolution body, 69 cases to another bodies, and in 9 cases the consumer was instructed to reconsider launching legal proceedings.

In 2016, Finnish consumers’ receivables from cross-border sales were collected to an amount of EUR 106,000 in the 279 cases that ended in an amicable settlement.

Case statistics were published as a part of the ECC Finland’s newsletter 1/2017 , including also topics such as:

  • FAQ of online dating
  • online car price evaluation services
  • last year´s statistics: what were the topics and volumes of complaints from Finnish consumers, how many cases were settled and how much funds were returned to consumers.