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Office of Competition and Consumer Protection

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World Consumer Rights Day - the rights of senior consumers

< previous | next > 24.03.2017

World Consumer Rights Day - the rights of senior consumers
  • On March 15, we celebrate the World Consumer Rights Day.
  • This year, the UOKiK would like to focus on one specific group of consumers – namely, senior citizens.
  • Among the various practices directed against this consumer group, most pertain to contracts concluded during commercial presentations or during home visits by sales representatives. At the present stage, the Competition Authority is conducting 14 different investigations in cases of this type.

The World Consumer Rights Day is celebrated on March 15, since it was on that day in 1962 that John F. Kennedy formulated four basic consumer rights: the right to be informed, the right to choose, the right to safety and the right to be heard. In 2017, the UOKiK decided to focus on the rights of senior consumers. Counteracting unfair practices directed against this group of citizens is one of the primary objectives of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection.

Illegal practices

From our experience, the irregularities which occur most frequently pertain to contracts concluded off-premises, i.e. during home visits by sales representatives or during commercial presentations. In 2016, we issued 13 decisions concerning illegal practices of companies which engaged in activities of this type. At the present stage, 14 further investigations are underway – says Mr Marek Niechciał, President of the UOKiK.

In case of home visits, in most cases the infringing entities are companies which sell telecommunication services, including mostly fixed-line telephony services. There were also numerous irregularities pertaining to electricity and gas supply services. The mechanism which appears to be applied most often is leading the consumer to believe that the document signed merely amends the provisions of an existing contract and that it will allow the consumer to pay less. Sales representatives frequently hold themselves out as representing the existing service provider. In fact, however, the consumer signs a contract with a different entrepreneur, which often entails the termination of the existing contract and the imposition of a fine for premature termination.

Prohibited practices are also often applied in the course of commercial presentations of various household goods, medical devices or bedding products. In the invitations sent to consumers, the entrepreneurs say nothing about the true purpose of the presentation, i.e. the sale of the company’s products. They also mislead their consumers as to the properties of the products in question and take various steps to prevent the consumer from cancelling the contract within the 14-day statutory period.

What does consumer protection look like in other countries?

The Competition Authority requested information from other EU Member States on whether they also face difficulties related to the illegal practices used in the course of commercial presentations which are aimed at senior citizens. A few countries admitted that they are experiencing a similar phenomenon. The countries in question included, inter alia, Germany, Austria and Hungary. In some countries, commercial presentations must always be notified with the authorities. In such cases, the products sold and the prices thereof must be the same as in the relevant notification.

Complaints by senior citizens

Polish senior citizens also complain about the small fonts used in contracts as well as the highly sophisticated language thereof. The proposed contracts also contain numerous references to other documents such as terms and conditions of service, price lists or schedules of fees and charges. This applies, in particular, to the telecommunications and financial sectors. Senior citizens frequently indicate that the offers of entrepreneurs fail to take their special needs into account; this applies, in particular, to the sale of services which consumers in this group have very little need for, such as various types of services pertaining to Internet access. Another problem which consumers complain about is the use of aggressive debt recovery methods which tend to cause extreme stress, particularly among older people.

Everyone can help

The UOKiK would like to reiterate that all of us may support the efforts of government authorities aimed at ensuring the protection of senior consumers.

– A question worth asking is whether we can do anything on a day-to-day basis in order to prevent senior citizens from falling victim to deceptive commercial practices. Should we perhaps talk to our grandmother, uncle or neighbour and tell them to watch out for visiting sales representatives or invitations for “free” health checks which later turn out to be commercial presentations? If we do so, we may also warn them against the pitfalls which may await during such presentations – Marek Niechciał reminds.

The conference entitled Consumer Protection in the Age of a Rising Silver Economy which took place in the Polish Senate on March 10 was also dedicated to the rights of senior consumers. The meeting was organised by the UOKiK, the Senate Subcommittee for Consumer Protection and the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw.

Additional information for the media:

Press Office of the UOKiK
pl. Powstańców Warszawy 1, 00-950 Warsaw
Phone: 695 902 088, 22 55 60 430
E-mail: [SCODE]Yml1cm9wcmFzb3dlQHVva2lrLmdvdi5wbA==[ECODE]

Twitter: @UOKiKgovPL

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