The Finnish Consumer Agency and Consumer Ombudsman have prepared guidelines concerning different fields or subjects over the years. These contain information on the content of legislation, its application and court rulings and offer businesses models so that they can comply with the principles of consumer law in their own activities.
The practice is based on section 11 of the Decree on the Consumer Agency, according to which the Consumer Agency has a duty to provide consumers and businesses information on the content of legislation and its application whenever legislation falls within the scope of the Consumer Agency and the Consumer Ombudsman.
Providing guidance and advice for businesses is an important part of market surveillance. Generalizing information for use in an entire branch is a service that helps businesses and marketing planners keep in mind the consumer viewpoint and pay attention to legal requirements.
To what extent guidelines are legally binding has been debated from time to time, along with the Consumer Ombudsman's right to issue guidelines. It is good that the Chancellor of Justice has stated his view on this matter, after the Finnish Bar Association asked him to determine whether the Consumer Ombudsman had exceeded her authority in preparing guidelines on the application of the Debt Collection Act.
In his response the Chancellor of Justice noted that the Consumer Ombudsman's guidelines are based on legally prescribed authority and meet the requirements of good administrative procedure. In his opinion the guidelines in question together with the accompanying letter can be considered a source of information as prescribed in section 11 of the Decree on the Consumer Agency. Since section 12 of the Debt Collection Act places an obligation on the Consumer Ombudsman to monitor compliance with the Act in the collection of consumer debt, the Consumer Ombudsman was entitled to issue recommendations on the interpretation of the general clause in section 4 of the Act.
The Chancellor of Justice also noted that the Consumer Ombudsman had not provided false or misleading information on the content of legislation or the binding nature of recommendations. The letter accompanying the guidelines explicitly stated that ultimately good debt collection practice depends on the rulings issued by the Market Court, which in the opinion of the Chancellor of Justice prevented anyone from getting a false idea of the binding nature of the guidelines.
Furthermore the accompanying letter stated that, although case law was not established because of the short period during which the Act had been in force, it was important for businesses and public bodies to be informed of matters that the Consumer Ombudsman considers key for consumers' legal security. The letter also asked actors in the field to give the Consumer Ombudsman feedback concerning the need to revise or supplement the guidelines.
The guidelines on debt collection as well as other guidelines in the area of consumer law are designed to increase openness and dialogue and to help businesses apply and comply with legislation in practice.
The Consumer Agency has recently revised its website and guidelines have been regrouped to make them easier for businesses to find. (English version is under construction)