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Office of Competition and Consumer Protection

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Consumer protection in Poland

There are two paths of consumer enforcement in Poland. The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK), as a central government administration body responsible for implementing the consumer protection policy and acting in public interest, initiates administrative proceedings concerning infringements of the collective consumer interests and reviews standard agreements used in transactions with consumers.

Practices infringing collective consumer interests are defined as unlawful activities of a trader resulting in harm to the interests of an unspecified number of people, i.e. all potential (current and future) customers of a given company. On the other hand, an individual consumer seeking redress to their claims may obtain free legal assistance from a local consumer ombudsman or a non-governmental consumer organisation, choose Alternative Dispute Resolution (eg. reconciling the positions of the parties by using measures such as mediation) or even file a court action.

The Act of 16 February 2007 on competition and consumer protection [Dz. U. (Journal of Laws) 2015 item 1634]  enumerates three examples of practices infringing collective consumer interests:

  • distributing inaccurate, false or incomplete information;
  • unfair commercial practices or acts of unfair competition;
  • proposing financial services to consumers where such services do not correspond to the needs of those consumers determined using all the information on the characteristics thereof which was available to the trader, or proposing such services in a manner inconsistent with the nature of the services in question.

Proceedings concerning infringements of collective consumer interests - as in case of practices restricting competition - are instituted ex officio. However, anyone may submit a written notification constituting a basis for intervention.

UOKiK also conducts proceedings intended to determine whether standard form contracts contain any abusive clauses and whether a prohibition on the use of such clauses should be imposed. In such cases, the notifications concerning suspected infringements may be filed, among others, by the consumers themselves, by consumer ombudsmen as well as consumer organisations.

In consequence of the administrative proceedings conducted, the Authority may issue a decision recognising  the practice as infringing collective consumer interests or a decision recognising the provisions of a standard form contract as abusive and imposing a prohibition on the use thereof and impose a fine of up to 10% of the trader’s revenue in the preceding year. If a trader fails to conform to the decision, UOKiK may impose a fine of up to 10 000 euro per each day of the delay.

Prior to the conclusion of proceedings concerning practices that violate collective consumer interests, the Authority  may also issue an interim decision. An interim decision imposes upon the trader against whom the proceedings were brought an obligation to discontinue specific actions where such actions may bring about risks to consumers which are both serious and difficult to remedy. The interim decision shall be binding for a period specified therein, no longer however than until a decision concluding the proceedings in the given case is issued.

If it is justified by the public interest, UOKiK may issue a reasoned opinion in a case concerning consumer protection pending before a court of general jurisdiction. This allows UOKiK to share with the courts its knowledge and decisions regarding consumer protection law.

In order to obtain information which may constitute evidence in cases pertaining to practices that violate collective consumer interests, UOKiK may also use a method known as mystery shopping. This method allows UOKiK employees to take actions aimed at concluding a purchase transaction, thereby obtaining direct evidence of the practices applied by the given trader. The method in question may only be used under the authorisation of the Court of Competition and Consumer Protection. The actions taken by the controller make it possible to determine, among others, the manner in which the given trader offers their  goods, the manner in which they  conclude  contracts as well as the way in which they  comply  with their  information duties at the pre-contractual stage, i.e. before any contract is signed.

The Authority shall also have the right to release announcements on state television and radio free of charge, in the manner and at the time agreed upon with the given broadcaster, as well as to release consumer warnings to the public, including on its own website. A consumer warning shall be issued on the basis of a decision of UOKiK  following the commencement of proceedings pertaining to practices that violate collective consumer interests where, based on the information gathered in the course of such proceedings, there are particular reasons to believe that the actions of the given trader may bring about substantial losses or adverse consequences for consumers at large. The announcements of UOKiK may pertain to any alarming phenomena or activities on the market which may pose a serious threat to consumer interests. These announcements may be published regardless whether any proceedings concerning practices that violate collective consumer interests have been initiated.

The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection cooperates with municipal and district consumer ombudsmen and non-governmental consumer organisations co-financed by the State Budget (Polish Consumer Federation, Association of Polish Consumers) that provide free legal assistance in individual cases. The Authority grants funds to NGO’s for performing public tasks, the purpose of which is to promote and protect consumer rights. Moreover, the Authority also provided consumer organisations with funds for their own contribution in projects co-financed by the EU.

Finally, every year UOKiK is consulted on hundreds of draft laws ensuring that the interests of consumers taken into account. The Authority also initiates legislative changes aimed at providing weaker market participants with the most comprehensive protection.

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