As we are currently waiting for the Government’s new Consumer Policy Programme, this is a good time to look back on the achievements of the work done to promote consumer rights over the last four years. Many steps forward have been taken in focal areas of our supervision: communication services, financial services, the position of children as consumers and the use of environmental claims in marketing. These are described in greater detail later in this newsletter.
Work outside the focal areas has also been productive. New case law on applying provisions has been generated, and in our cooperation projects with business organisations, we have achieved new types of practical tools that make companies’ work easier.
We have striven to explain the provisions we supervise in a user-oriented manner. In many problems concerning large numbers of consumers, we have assisted companies in planning their consumer communications, helping to resolve the issues as smoothly as possible. This principle of cooperation has proven the best way of sorting out disruptions that have affected a high number of consumers in such companies as Finnair, Sampo Bank and Elisa.
When we do things based on actual consumer behaviour rather than rational, idealistic models, the quality and impact of the work can be improved. Regardless of this, we also need to modernise our selection of tools. The possibility of collective actions has not brought with it the drawbacks feared by business life actors. Instead, companies have become more willing to negotiate.
Support in every-day choices
Over the last four years, the consumers’ operating environment has changed further. It is clearer than ever that in conditions of more stringent financial times, we cannot always aim for the best possible outcome for the consumer. Instead, we have to establish what is an adequate level to secure the position of the consumer. In these deliberations, preventing exclusion is an important viewpoint.
When things become more complicated, consumers need to invest plenty of time and effort in making the best possible choice. Some have the possibility of finding or buying help for this, while some have no choice in reality. It is no longer possible to accurately define the so-called vulnerable consumer groups – each one of us may be a vulnerable consumer in some area in a certain life stage.
In these situations, ensuring the consumer’s functional capacity and supporting successful decision-making become core issues. These, however, need to be founded on legislation that specifies a minimum level of consumer protection. Once the basics – including the price, liability for defects and annual interest – have been sorted, the consumer can focus on the quality and features of the product. Legislation lays a foundation on which active consumers can base their requirements, thus influencing the offer.
Finnish Consumer Agency