A majority of enquiries concern problems with sales terms and conditions relating to sales agreements as well as marketing methods. However, the ability of the Consumer Agency to intervene in many cases is too limited.
Examples of complaints include a product ordered over the internet that never arrives, a campaign marketed as free that ends up with a bill to pay, and incomprehensible terms and conditions tied to a sales agreement. When faced with such headaches, the consumer’s reaction is often to turn to the Consumer Agency.
For over a decade the watchdog received around 2,000 cries for help from the public annually. Last year that number grew to around 8,000. The agency says the increase in consumer requests for help shows the prevailing state of affairs in marketing.
“Currently problems relating to customer service lead the field. Also problems with internet marketing by firms outside Finland end up on the agency’s desk,” says its Assistant Director Päivi Seppälä.
She believes the growing number of enquiries stems, in part, from a greater consumers awareness. But it also shows up deficiencies in customer service.
”When a consumer does not easily make contact with a supplier, they turn to officials,” notes Seppälä.
Inadequate ability to intervene
Although the number of contacts to the Consumer Agency has dramatically increased, the ability of the Consumer Ombudsman to intervene in problems is limited.
The Ombudsman called for greater powers of supervision a few years ago. Currently, speedy intervention to remedy illegal advertising campaign methods is not possible.
”We don’t have methods to intervene in acute situations of market misconduct. Indeed the process via the courts to prevent a company from illegal marketing can take several years,” points out Päivi Seppälä.
The Ministry of Justice has examined whether the consumer protection act be strengthened with more powers for the Ombudsman. Nevertheless, a speedy legislative change is not on the cards.
“Such legislative projects require precise examination and deliberations at all stages. In reality we are taking of changes that will take years rather than months to implement,” says Legal Councillor Katri Kummonen from the Ministry of Justice.