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Office of Competition and Consumer Protection

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A busy year for consumer ombudsmen

< previous | next > 07.02.2018

A busy year for consumer ombudsmen
  • The municipal and district consumer ombudsmen conducted nearly half a million counselling sessions in 2016.
  • The greatest number of complaints – more than 83 thousand – pertained to clothing and footwear vendors.
  • Consumer ombudsmen were also frequently asked to provide assistance in the course of disputes with telecommunications companies (more than 54 thousand times in total).

Your complaint was rejected by the seller? Having issues with goods purchased on-line, your utilities supply contract or your mobile phone company? Need assistance in court proceedings? You may ask your municipal or district consumer ombudsman for advice. There are 371 consumer ombudsmen in Poland at the moment. The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection summed up their work in 2016. Ombudsmen advised consumers on 494 878 occasions, issuing notifications to various undertakings on behalf of consumers in 67 701 cases and filed or prepared 4027 statements of claim.

– These figures show how high the demand for the services provided by consumer ombudsmen remains in Poland today. The UOKiK recognises their efforts, which translate directly into the well-being of our citizens. However, there are significant discrepancies in terms of their activities between individual districts. How is it possible that in one medium-sized province capital, the consumer ombudsmen gave advice to consumers on 348 occasions in a single year, whereas in another, similar city that figure was as much as 8565? Consumers from all across the country must enjoy the same, high degree of protection – stresses Marek Niechciał, President of UOKiK.

For this reason, the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection sent a letter to all district governors. In this document, the Authority notes that in some districts consumer ombudsmen are not employed full-time or have no assistance whatsoever in the course of their work; some of them don’t even have their own offices. The Competition Authority therefore asks for the local government to support the ombudsmen in the performance of their work.

Consumer advice

In 2016, consumers asked ombudsmen to provide assistance in:

  • 223 779 cases related to traditional sale of goods. The products to which most consumer complaints pertained were: clothing and footwear (83 401), audio/video equipment and household appliances (46 093), interior fittings (23 807), computers and accessories (17 740) as well as motoring products (13 960). The number of complaints against sellers of goods has been on the rise, with 223 384 such complaints in 2015 compared to 198 080 back in 2011. Compared to last year, the sector in which the number of issues saw the most significant increase was audio/video equipment and household appliances (43 997 cases in 2015) and interior fittings (20 662); the number of complaints with respect to footwear and clothing, on the other hand, fell from 88 146 to 83 401.
  • 206 584 cases related to service suppliers. Most complaints pertained to telecom companies (54 646), utilities suppliers (such as gas or electricity suppliers – 27 472), financial services (20 177), insurance services (16 077), debt recovery services (12 280) as well as renovation and construction services (11 892). The number of counselling sessions held with respect to services was lower than in 2015 (210 115), although still much higher than in 2011 (181 664). The only sector where the number of complaints saw an increase were insurance services (16 077 compared to 14 915 in the preceding year).
  • 64 429 cases related to distance contracts and off-premises contracts for the sale of goods. The number of instances where consumer ombudsmen were asked for advice fell by more than one thousand compared to 2015 (65 591), although it was still almost twice as high as in 2011 (33 287).

Frequent issues

  • Sale of goods on the company premises. Most cases where consumer ombudsmen were asked for assistance pertained to consumer complaints. Consumers reported various problems, including refusal to accept complaints, lack of response on the part of the vendor, forcing the consumer to accept the vendor’s chosen manner of resolution of the case, ineffective defect remediation and ambiguous provisions contained on warranty cards.
  • Off-premises and distance selling. Consumers mostly complained about incomprehensible terms and conditions contained in contracts, not being provided with copies of the signed documents, difficulties in returning goods to the seller as well as misleading information as to the qualities of the products sold.
  • Services. A substantial number of complaints were related to aggressive sales tactics. Consumers reported that various sales representatives would pose as representatives of current suppliers of telecommunications services or utilities, failed to inform consumers of the presence of additional fees, failed to present the full list of terms and conditions applicable to promotional offers or failed to provide the consumers with copies of the contracts. Customers also reported difficulties in contract cancellation, incorrect calculation of fees and charges, imposition of various contractual penalties as well as being offered bundled contracts (such as an electricity supply contract bound together with a healthcare service package). There was also a significant number of complaints pertaining to consumer loans and various sophisticated financial products such as unit-linked insurance policies, as well as complaints pertaining to the failure to provide reliable information, for example about exchange rate risks. In 2016, the municipal consumer ombudsman in Warsaw filed a class action against mBank on behalf of 867 consumers who wanted their mortgage loan contracts indexed to the Swiss franc to be declared invalid.

Notifications sent to traders

Whenever vendors failed to comply with the justified requests from their consumers, the ombudsmen asked these undertakings to provide explanations, filed notifications with them or attempted to encourage them to reach an amicable settlement. The total number of notifications of this type issued in 2016 was 67 701, 4 thousand less than in 2015 (71 798), but still more than 16 thousand more than in 2011 (51 540). Most interventions pertained to the traditional sales of clothing and footwear (20 260), off-premises and distance contracts (7682), telecommunication services (7600) and the sales of audio/video equipment as well as household appliances (5031).

Assistance in court proceedings

In 2016, consumer ombudsmen provided consumers with support in 4027 court cases by filing actions or preparing statements of claim on their behalf. However, such actions were performed less frequently than in the previous years.

In 2016, most court actions pertained to consumer complaints and warranty issues pertaining to the goods purchased (1695) as well as improper performance of services (1077). In 75 cases, consumer ombudsmen filed actions concerning the presence of prohibited terms and conditions in consumer contracts. In 724 cases, they assisted consumers in the course of proceedings before permanent arbitration courts.

Where to find help?

Additional information for the media:

UOKiK Press Office 
Pl. Powstańców Warszawy 1, 00-950 Warsaw
Phone: 695 902 088
Email: [SCODE]Yml1cm9wcmFzb3dlQHVva2lrLmdvdi5wbA==[ECODE]
Twitter: @UOKiKgovPL

 

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