Shake-up planned in consumer protection

Fines of 5.5 million euros on 211 consumer claims were imposed throughout 2011, according to the Labor Ministry’s Consumer Secretariat, with data showing that most claims were made against businesses, and, in a first for the country, also against banks and insurance companies.

Last year the number of claims that led to fines being imposed on businesses came to 167, while the consumer group added that the majority of the fines in 2011 were paid even though the Consumer Secretariat has no mechanism for monitoring the payment of cash penalties, which are handled through local tax authorities.

Meanwhile, the Labor Ministry announced that the Consumer Secretariat will be merged with the Consumer Ombudsman into an independent authority for consumer protection in a move the government hopes will provide the new body with greater powers to prevent fraud, deception and unfair business, and reduce the overall operational costs of the two separate authorities by 25 percent.

According to sources the new authority will be under the direct jurisdiction of Parliament and will monitor and regulate market standards and practices. It will also be able to suggest measures and legislative reforms regarding the protection of consumers, as well as drafting codes of ethics.

The out-of-court settlement of claims, meanwhile, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Ombudsman, will be undertaken by committees acting on a regional level and by private mediation groups.

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