Annual Report on Consumer Issues
The outside world is constantly closing in on Danish consumers for better or worse. There are many possibilities to choose from many of which are available through the Internet. There are areas that call for a completely different range of consumer protection in the future. Because of this, an overall theme of adjustment to change was dominant throughout 1999 at the National Consumer Agency of Denmark. These changes will prepare us to offer better consumer information while focusing on the increasing demands for improved ethics, better awareness of production methods and Internet security.
A great deal of energy went into launching the Danish Consumer Information Centre an independent, private foundation situated at Amagerfaelledvej 56 in Copenhagen. The Danish Consumer Information Centre and the National Consumer Agency of Denmark share the same address.
During 1999, the National Consumer Agency of Denmark started a project that will develop into a new and ambitious EU consumer political strategy designed to result in a higher degree of uniform protection for all EU consumers. In order for consumers to shop with a feeling of confidence that they are getting the products they pay for even though they may be purchased in another EU country it is imperative to have common rules and a clear framework. Consumer protection in the individual member countries will need reinforcement in some areas. One of the goals is to give consumers the possibility and right to lodge complaints across country borders.
The Minister of Industry released a discussion paper entitled "A Strengthened Policy on the Consumer and Competition". The National Consumer Agency of Denmark, the Danish Consumer Information Centre and the Consumer Ombudsman plan to increase their co-operation with the Danish Competition Authority to implement and publish relevant price comparisons and studies on problems in the competitive market area. Fair competition ensures reasonable prices and is beneficial to consumers. However, the business community doesnt compete solely on prices. One of the challenges for manufacturers, consumer authorities and foundations alike is to respond to consumer demands for manufacturers' ethics, including such questions as:. Are toxins used? Were the animals well treated? Was child labour involved? Where was the product manufactured?
During 1999, the National Consumer Agency of Denmark prepared a project which will result in consumers being able to seek exactly this type of information in an electronic database The Red Dot. By developing consumer-friendly databases and creating rules for what is good practice on the Net, the National Consumer Agency of Denmark and The Danish Consumer Information Centre will work together to ensure that the new technology is of optimal benefit to consumers.
Råd & Resultater [Advice & Results]
1999 was the final year of the National Consumer Agency of Denmarks magazine Råd & Resultater [Advice & Results].
In connection with the discontinuation of Statens Husholdningsråd [The Danish Home Economics Council] and the establishment of the Danish Consumer Information Centre, it was decided to merge the two consumer magazines, Advice & Results and Forbrugerrådets [The Danish Consumer Councils] magazine Tænk [Think]. The new publication Tænk + Test [Think + Test] is published by the Danish Consumer Council in collaboration with the Danish Consumer Information Centre. Advice & Results was issued 12 times in 1999 and closed with approximately 80 000 subscribers.
The National Consumer Agency of Denmark also published four booklets for the Danish Government Home Economics Council in 1999. The booklets were sold through subscriptions and as single copies. At the end of the year, the National Consumer Agency of Denmark had approximately 35 000 subscribers that received "Ren Besked" [Straight Talk] quarterly by mail. Approximately half a million Straight Talk booklets, Kort & Godt [Short & Sweet] booklets and other folders were diffused.
The National Consumer Agency of Denmark and the Internet in 1999
The National Consumer Agency of Denmarks Web site has grown into an broad channel of current information where the business community and consumers can help themselves to a vast array of information on consumer-related subjects. The site has become a natural part of the Agencys daily work. At the beginning of the year, it was extended to include electronic complaint forms and the Consumer Complaints Board has received new cases on a daily basis. The site is also a central tool for the Consumer Ombudsman who informs the public on current problems, attitudes, guidelines, and so on. Informational material is released simultaneously in hard-copy and electronically. Finally, the Agency holds an extensive dialogue with consumers through the site. There are approximately 5 700 electronic inquiries per year from the sites debate page and by e-mail. In 1999, www.fs.dk was visited by approximately 310 000 people and received a total of 15.5 million hits.
The Agencys laboratories perform tests on consumer products and carry out method development in relation to the type of test being performed. The laboratories complete 30-40 product tests annually, both in house and, as part of a pan-European co-operation, with outside facilities.
The laboratories are highly specialised and concentrate mainly on tests that are not performed by other labs or cannot suitably be performed elsewhere. The tests focus primarily on large and small domestic appliances, childrens products, washing and cleaning products, textiles, and personal hygiene products. Cell phone and computer equipment tests are also new areas the laboratories are handling.
The Consumer Complaints Board
The Complaints Boards case load is at a record level. This is partly due to an expected increase in cases involving the computer and telecommunications areas, specifically telephone subscriptions including contract interpretation (212 cases), purchase of telecommunication equipment (85 cases), and data services and accompanying equipment (289 cases). There has been a noticeable increase in cases involving telephone sex-lines (1 044 cases). For these cases, the Board Chairperson has exempted the limit of DKK 500; consumers with unwarranted sex-line phone bills under DKK 500 are entitled to have their case handled by the Board.
The Consumer Ombudsman
Shortly before Christmas, the Consumer Ombudsman dispatched a brief to business and interest groups. The object of the brief was to clarify that the Marketing Law applies to any action a business takes during the course of marketing a product or service. The Marketing Law is therefore to be respected in connection with dealings on the Internet and in similar communication systems where a business intends to influence supply and demand through its marketing strategies.
New consumer legislation
The Bill on Rules for Comparative Advertising was adopted on 24 February 2000 for insertion as Section 2A into the Marketing Practices Act to implement Directive 1997/55-EC. In addition, a bill was introduced on 1 March 2000 for a new provision on unsolicited calls, e-mails, etc., to specific customers, which will be included in the Marketing Practices Act as a new Section 6A. This provision will implement Article 10 of the Directive on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts and Article 12 of the Directive on the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the telecommunications sector.
The proposal for a new Payment Cards Act was introduced in October 1999. The Act came into force 1 July 2000. The provisions comprise payment instruments such as payment cards, home banking systems and internet payment transfer systems, prepaid payment instruments and electronic funds. The focus of the proposal is on rules which are important for consumers and provide protection of consumers using payment instruments. At the same time, the proposal accommodates business enterprises in the areas in which the regard for their product development and competitive power carries most weight.
To implement Directive 98/6/EC of 16 February 1998 on consumer protection in the indication of prices of products offered to consumers, the Danish Price Marking Act has been amended to provide authority for implementing the directive. The implementation will take place by means of an executive order.
Present national consumer policies in future prospects
Since spring 1999, Denmark has concentrated on the follow-up on the consumer policies strategy of 1997.
The major part of the strategy has been carried through, and among the results are the establishment of the private foundation named "Forbrugerinformationen" (Consumer Information) as from 1 January 2000, a strengthening of the Consumer Complaints Board and the Consumer Ombudsman, including his opportunities for intervention, and improved contribution of information in the field of marking, a trial of ethical marking, establishment of a research working group, and the creation of a labelling team, which in a report has recommended the development of a code of good labelling.
The new initiatives of strategy and fields of focus in Denmark will be as follows:
Projects initiated by the Consumer Ombudsman
The Consumer Ombudsman initiated a number of projects during 1999, including:
As part of the Consumer Ombudsman's supervision of compliance with the Payment Cards Act, the Ombudsman commissioned a review of the safety of the store cards offered by department stores, shopping centres and retail chains. The review was carried out by a consulting firm.
The store card safety review, which comprised ten payment systems, showed that the safety is generally satisfactory and essentially in conformity with the requirements set out in the Payment Cards Act. Reported cases of theft and abuse of these cards are rare, and consumers have lodged very few complaints. However, the consultants recommended changes to certain conditions in the systems. The Consumer Ombudsman is now taking action to follow up on the review.
As part of the Consumer Ombudsman's supervision of compliance with the Payment Cards Act, the Consumer Ombudsman launched a project to review safety in using the Internet for home banking transactions, etc. The review will be carried out by a consulting firm.
The Consumer Ombudsman also launched a project to establish an electronic database on the prices and conditions of insurance policies designed to create greater transparency in this area.
This report was published in September 1999 and was repared by the Committee on "The Financial Sector after the Year 2000". The committee was set up by the Ministry of Economic Affairs with the objective of analysing and evaluating technological and market-related developments within the financial sector and defining the reconstruction needs which the sector is confronting.
The Consumer Ombudsman participated in the Committee's work and set out in writing his opinion in the various consumer-related fields, for example, on the question of "Best Execution" practices on securities settlements and on a more specific implementation of "Good Practice" rules. The contribution made by the Consumer Ombudsman to the Committee is available on the Danish Consumer Agencys Homepage www.fs.dk
Latest update 25 January 2001
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