Wednesday, 17 December 2014
10. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the way in which consumers will be protected from financial detriment following the purchase of a product or service in view of the survey by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission which highlighted significant losses incurred by consumers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48139/14]
What proposals does the Minister have for the report of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission on the cost of poor customer service and faulty goods which it puts at €500 million a year? That sum would fund many rugby teams and scientists. More importantly, it is money taken out of people's pockets for bad service. This issue needs to be tackled.
Consumer detriment is a measure of the loss experienced by consumers where they have cause to complain about a product or service. The study referred to by the Deputy examines the number and range of problems across the whole economy, as well as in specific sectors. It is the first time a study of this size and scope has been conducted in Ireland. This is an important benchmark study which will help the new Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to identify the problems affecting consumers and to focus its resources on areas of most importance.
Benchmark figures included in the report show that the majority, about two thirds, of consumers do take action when they have a problem, with a significant number of issues being resolved. The majority of consumers also feel confident and knowledgeable of their consumer rights. Clearly, it is an aim of public policy to improve on the benchmark established for consumer detriment.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is continuing to combat consumer detriment. Examples of its work include the ongoing car clocking investigations, an examination of unfair terms in consumer contracts and direct engagement with business. Its consumer helpline dealt with over 50,000 calls in the past year from consumers who had experienced a problem
This is an important study and will be a benchmark. Clearly, the figures are of concern, with 44% of consumers reporting they had experienced consumer detriment. We need to get that figure down. The cost is estimated at €209 per person surveyed, which comes to €500 million a year. There is a significant target for improved work by the commission to focus on and build a stronger market that defends consumers more effectively.
This is a welcome report, but it is key that the consumer protection side of the commission stand up and use it. When one drills down, everyone can identify with the fact that one in ten consumers who responded to the survey spent more than ten hours trying to solve a problem. Up to 50% of the issues were never actually resolved. I challenge anyone not to identify with the statistic that 16% of respondents had a problem with telephone, Internet or television providers. In second place came financial services, with a figure of only 7%, which I thought would be much higher. Banks are pulling out of communities they once served, restricting remaining services and imposing larger charges for basic services. Nothing has been done, however, to tackle this issue. We have sat back and allowed it to happen, even though the Government is the main shareholder in many of the banks. Is the Minister confident that consumer protection legislation is robust enough to deal with these issues? Is it robust enough to deal with the new way many consumers access services, particularly online and through providers outside the jurisdiction? What plans does he have to examine these issues?
We have a consultation paper on proposed legislation to consolidate and update consumer laws. We have received some responses which we will examine. This will assist us in developing new legislation. We need to continue to focus relevant information on consumers. It is encouraging that 80% of consumers inquire about services or products and shop around. We have, therefore, a more discerning consumer.
Some of the negative aspects lie with the businesses involved. Up to 19% of businesses did nothing at all when contacted, while 46% of the issues raised remained unresolved. There are areas for improvement and the report will be a useful bedrock in this regard. Compliance with the law is one matter, but creating a culture within enterprise that sees quality of service to the consumer as one of the best ways of building loyalty and the retention of consumers is important, too. This research has some salutary lessons as to how businesses are responding to consumer complaints in practice. The report is a valuable benchmark on which we can build.
With the consultation paper, what plans does the Minister have for making legislation more relevant to Internet purchasing, giving consumer rights and protection to those who buy over the Internet who then have problems because, unknown to them at the time they purchased, the provider was based outside the jurisdiction? Is there any work under way at EU level to give EU-wide protection to consumers who purchase online and businesses to provide a better online customer service which often can be poor?
There are two EU directives which have been adopted and will improve the ability of those who buy on the Internet to take a complaint across all 28 member states in a uniform way. That legislation is in train and will be transposed in Ireland. Increasingly, people are migrating to the Internet as a way of trading. This legislation, accordingly, is designed to keep track with this. It will also be a theme in the updating of consumer legislation, bearing in mind the changed environment in which a lot of trade occurs.