Municipal consumer advice has not been able to keep up with demand. Consumer advice plays a significant role in promoting citizens' legal protection and efficient markets, however. One solution could be to centralize advice.
The adequacy and quality of consumer advice should be ensured in a balanced manner throughout the country. This objective has been regarded as so important that it has been written into the Government programme and Finland's Consumer Policy Programme.
Improvements still need to be made in the availability and level of services, however. Local authorities' resources have not been sufficient to meet the demand for consumer advice. Between 2003 and 2005 the number of contacts handled by consumer advisers rose by 27% from 116,972 to 148,706. Meanwhile the number of consumer advisers remained practically unchanged.
The level of advice also depends on how advice is arranged in different localities. One-fourth of the population live in areas that only have part-time consumer advisers, who may also have to take care of secretarial, inspection or planning tasks. The job of a consumer adviser is broad and demanding, however, and is difficult to do properly on a part-time basis.
A way to spur development?
One idea that has been proposed is to shift consumer advice from local authorities to the state. The management, steering and supervision of consumer advice would be entrusted to the Consumer Agency and the state provincial offices would take care of organizing advice at the practical level.
The Consumer Agency supports this proposal. Shifting consumer advice to the state would make it possible for units to be large enough and for advisers to have sufficient expertise and to specialize on a regional and personal basis. This change could also spur the development of different electronic and phone service systems and lead to better training for advisers.
Shifting consumer advice to the state would also give the Consumer Agency better possibilities to manage, steer and supervise consumer advice. Hopefully attention will also be paid to providing sufficient resources in the reform.