Standards and consumers

Whenever we turn on a light switch, use the internet, unwrap food from a supermarket, or our children play with a toy, or we do hundreds of other everyday things, we’re usually using standards without knowing it.

In laymen’s word standards are guidelines prepared by a team of experts in order to obtain the best possible results for the best value whether from a product or service. Standards help support basic consumer rights, such as the right to safety and the right to be informed, which have their origins in former US president John F. Kennedy’s declaration of four basic Consumer Rights in 1962. Further, standards when followed also help to raise levels of quality, safety, reliability, and efficiency, exactly what consumers’ expectations are when purchasing products or services.

In short, standards can provide specific requirements and/or

                          guidance on addressing consumer concerns and help to

                          meet their expectations

pramLet’s take examples of some applications of standards. In Europe, in order to safeguard children, a standard was prepared for ‘child’s prams and pushchairs’ (MSA EN 1888). This standard gives guidance to manufacturers on how to make pushchairs that are safe and comfortable. A pushchair needs to be stable, durable, with good brakes and secure harnesses. It also needs to minimize risk of injury when folding. MSA EN 1888 covers all of these aspects and shows manufacturers how to meet minimum levels of safety. All pushchairs sold in the Malta must comply with this standard.

Toys are valuable tools for children’s development. As well as keeping them entertained, toys help children find out about the world, learn new skills and make friends. But the importance of keeping children safe while they play can’t be overstated. In the EU standards (MSA EN 71 series and others) have been prepared to ensure toys safety.

Before toys reach the shelves, they must undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are safe for children to use. Safety testing a teddy bear, for example, might include tugging its eyes, to make sure a young child couldn’t easily pull them out and swallow them, and setting it alight, to check whether a child holding a teddy which caught fire, would have time to drop  it before being burnt.

What role can consumers play in the development of standards?

Consumers can have a very important role in the development of standards. Personal experiences can help to improve standards especially where safety can be an issue. In these situations, ‘L-Ghaqda tal-Konsumatur’ is there to listen to your experience and put forward your concern to European body responsible for the preparation and review of standards.

Another role for consumers with some expertise in particular fields is to participate technical committees preparing and reviewing standards. One can visit the site of the local standards body MCCAA where one finds a list of standards at various stages of preparation.

Standards affect us all every day and everywhere,

we take these for granted. Consumers have a very

important role and their feedback through L-Ghaqda

tal Konsumatur is very important to ensure that

products are not only safe but also value for money.

MBL Garage Door Solutions – Problem Solved

We received a complaint from a consumer regarding a garage door he bought from MBL Garage Door Solutions.  The garage door was bought in March 2016.  After some weeks, the garage door motor developed a defect.  The consumer contacted MBL who agreed to replace the garage door motor.  However, to date, in spite of many calls to the trader during the last five months, the door motor has not been replaced.

The Consumers’ Association contacted MBL twice through email.  However, to date we still have not been sent an answer to our emails.

We believe that this is not the customer service that consumers expect.  As the consumer had his rights denied to him through no response, we advised the consumer to take his complaint to the Consumer Claims Tribunal for a decision.

 

18 April 2017

 

On the 5th May we were informed by the consumer that the complaint has been solved as MBL Garage Door Solutions replaced the door motor in question.

Solving Dieselgate: First steps by EP

Today the European Parliament was asked to vote on two Reports submitted by two of its committees – IMCO and EMIS in order to deal with the problems that Dieselgate had created and which lack of action on the part of national regulators had perpetuated.  This lack of action was evident in the case of Volkswagen.  This inaction perpetuated the emissions of high NOx*, with serious consequences on both environment and people’s health but shielded powerful carmakers from penalties.

The Parliament’s plenary endorsed a draft law seeking to beef up the current, flawed car testing system. In a separate vote, MEPs also called for affected Dieselgate consumers to be financially compensated.  The EU Parliament adopted the following landmark measures to reduce the chances of another Dieselgate scandal in Europe:

  • A stronger role for the EU Commission to test cars and ensure Member States are applying rules equally across Europe.
  • Checks on a minimum of 20% of new models once on the road across Europe.
  • Greater transparency of test results which would mean that car manufacturers, Member States and testing bodies are held more accountable.
  • A split in the financial relationships between car makers and privately owned testing services.
  • Compensation for consumers impacted by the Dieselgate scandal – such as VW owners – and that a recall is not a sufficient form of reparation.
  • Car maker liability if consumers face damages as a result of non-conformity.
  • The Commission to come forward with a proposal for an EU wide collective redress scheme for consumers.

After this vote Monica Goyens, BEUC’s Director General, said:

 “Today’s vote shows the Parliament has drawn the right lessons from the emissions scandal and is standing on the consumer’s side. Consumers expected EU legislators to acknowledge the malpractices of the car industry and the failure of Member States to properly test cars. The opaque testing system currently favours carmakers over consumers and this vote helps reverse the tide. 

The EU Parliament has heeded our call for robust measures to fix the flawed testing system. More car checks, better oversight of national authorities and cutting the financial ties between car makers and inspectors are crucial measures that are needed to avoid another Dieselgate. However, it is a missed opportunity that the Parliament rejected the idea of an EU agency to oversee car testing, which would be the ultimate way to improve the system.”

The setting up of an EU agency to oversee car testing was seen as a more definite way to ensure that another Dieselgate would not occur.  However, the EU Parliament did not approve this agency, a move which many considered it as a blow.  It should be noted when asked about the fact that no European testing agency noted the fraudulent device used by Wolkswagen, the US Environmental Protection Agency director said that only a central European Agency with the resources and power to test cars and trucks will prevent another Dieselgate scandal.

As we said, this is the first step as the European Council now needs to work with the Parliament to adopt a final agreement.  This would not be an easy task as the car industry has a very influential lobby in Germany, France and Italy.

 

*  The 2015 EEA figures have for the first time put the number of premature deaths caused by NO2 excess emissions across Europe at 72,000 annually. A Report attributed around 1200 deaths due to the Volkswagen scandal.

When ‘Unlimited’ really means LIMITED!

In 2012 Melita used the term ‘Unlimited’ to promote certain Melita services.  However, in reality the services were limited

This case relates to the contestation by Melita Limited (‘Melita’) of a decision taken by the Director General (Consumer Affairs) within the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) whereby the Director General imposed an one off administrative fine of 5,000 euros and a daily fine of 120 euros on Melita – an electronic communications service provider – because of advertisements which the Director General considered to be misleading. This contestation was filed before the Competition and Consumer Appeals Tribunal (the Tribunal). Subsequently the Malta Communications Authority (MCA) intervened in the proceedings before the Tribunal.[1] Melita has since lodged an appeal before the Court of Appeal (Superior) contesting the Tribunal’s decision. The intervention and decision of the Director General (DG) came about after a complaint made by the Malta Communications Authority in 2012 with the DG whereby the MCA argued that advertisements by Melita promoting some of its products as being ‘unlimited’ were factually incorrect and misleading and therefore constituted unfair commercial practices and were in breach of the Consumer Affairs Act.[2]   Melita subsequently contested the DG’s decision including the fines imposed before the Tribunal. One of the main arguments made by Melita that any ‘limitations’ on the service were because of the application of fair usage policies intended to ensure that the use of the service does not impact other subscribers negatively. The Tribunal rejected the arguments by Melita noting that in the advertisements produced as evidence the words ‘unlimited’ and ‘without limits’ were written in prominent fonts whereas the words indicating that ‘terms and conditions apply’ or that ‘an acceptable usage policy’ applies, were written in very small fonts and placed in a corner of the advert. The Tribunal said that while it does appreciate the purpose behind the acceptable usage policy and the fair usage policy, Melita cannot advertise a service without limits when in reality limits exist, this irrespective of the number of clients impacted by such limits. The Tribunal decided not to uphold Melita’s claims, confirming the decisions taken by the Director General as per his decision of the 11th October 2012.

[1] The Tribunal is composed of a judge who presides and two lay technical members.

[1] The MCA as a ‘qualified entity’ under the Consumer Affairs Act, made a formal request to the Director General requesting him to issue a compliance order against Melita since it contended that Melita was acting in breach of Part VIII of the said law which regulated unfair commercial practices.

 

Outcome of the Expert Meeting in Malta

On the 13 and 14 March 2017 BEUC held two meetings of the 2nd Enforcement Steering Group & Redress Expert Meeting in Malta. The first session discussed various enforcement issues, including specific cases, which BEUC is currently investigating through the collaboration of various consumer organisations members of BEUC. These cases included the campaigns related to ‘connected toys’ with a presentation by NCC BEUC’s Norwegian member. Other cases discussed involved practices concerning Pokeman Go and the use of the so-called ‘floor clauses’ in mortgage (home loans) agreements. The group also discussed briefly recent developments relating the Volkswagan emissions case.

In the second session the BEUC secretariat prepared a presentation focusing on the impact of internet on consumer choices and what steps can be taken to ensure that consumers are better informed when buying through the internet. In this regard various suggestions were discussed focusing on more coordinated action between member associations including sharing of information and of possible unfair practices. In this context presentations were made relating to new initiatives relation to enforcement cooperation, the General Data Protection Regulation and the work relating to the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network.

The second day focused on collective redress with a tour de table amongst those present updating measures in each member state concerning collective redress. Following a presentation by BEUC as to the possible issues that can be raised to promote more effective means of collective redress through the EU, a lengthy discussion ensued as to what requests should be made to the EU in this regard including the feasibility of having a directive in place to ensure that certain minimum measures are adopted.

The Consumer Association – Malta is always represented in these Expert meetings as apart from the collective actions that we participate we also take advantage of the expertise in this group to learn how other consumer organisation tackle consumer issues that Maltese consumer face.

Welcome

The Consumers’ Association wish to welcome the participants to the Second Enforcement Steering Group Meeting & Redress Expert Meeting which is being organised by BEUC in Malta.

We wish every success to this meeting as the subjects to be tackled during the meeting are of direct interest to Maltese consumers.  Amongst them one finds the developments in the VW case and further enforcements action by BEUC members.  Another topic to be discussed is enforcement in the field of internet of things which also includes connected toys, an example of which is My friend Cayla which we featured some months ago.

Mothercare – the first step has been take but….

Geoblocking restricts the rights of consumers to buy from wherever they want.  Online shopping facilitated shopping across borders – something which for a small country like ours is vital for the consumer as the choice is limited and prices are high.  This opportunity to buy online put pressure on local providers to increase choice and reduce prices.  However, online shopping also made it easier to restrict shopping across borders as it is easier to identify the location of the consumer and thus block.

During the past year, within the EU steps were taken to restrict geo-blocking.  However, enforcement, as usual, is weak.  At the beginning of January, the Association tested two sites – Marks & Spencer and Mothercare.  In both cases, we noticed that Maltese consumers were not allowed to shop from the UK websites.

The Association wrote to both Marks & Spencer and Mothercare protesting that geoblocking on their sites is discriminating against Maltese consumers and we informed both that we would be launching a campaign against them.   In both cases, it was noted that when one tried to shop from their websites, one is in the final stages of ordering a product and is asked to insert the location where the products should be sent, Malta was not included on the list of countries where products could be delivered.

We are glad to note that in the case of Mothercare the first steps to end geoblocking had been taken.  In the case of Mothercare, one could ask for the products to be sent to Malta.

However, this is only the first step.  The attraction of  Mothercare website has been marred as one would still not be able to buy many of the offers.  Apart from this, the postage charges that they are asking are exorbitant and in most cases higher than the product itself.

As we said the first steps had been taken but it is a long way to ensure that consumers would really benefit from the Single Market.

AGM – 2017

Consumer’s Association

Annual General Conference 2017

 

The Annual General Conference will be held on Tuesday 28 March 2017 at Associations’ office, South Street Valletta at 6.00pm.

Nominations for the post of Chairman, General Secretary, Financial Secretary and Members on Council will be received from registered members till 24 ta’ March 2017.  Nominations are to be signed by the nominated person, the person nominating the candidate and another member and be sent to the General Secretary 47A South Street Valletta.

 

E Chetcuti

Ghaqda tal-Konsumaturi

10 March 2017

Marks & Spencer – discriminates against Maltese consumers

Geoblocking is supposed to have finished but most firms who have at least an outlet in Malta still continue this practice.  Marks & Spencer is one of them.  In the coming weeks we would also mention other firms which discriminate against consumers who live in Malta.

Geoblocking has several detrimental effects.  On a European level, it disregards the objective of working towards a Single Market.  On a national level, it discriminates against consumers on the basis of nationality.  Consumers in such situations as in Malta would be both restricted in the choice and also have to pay a higher price.  The range of products and special offers which are offered online are usually much wider.  Apart from this, the products are not the latest that the firm offers and the prices are much higher.

As we said Marks & Spencer discriminates against consumers who live in Malta.  On visiting the site (http://www.marksandspencer.com/), everything is normal until one reaches the insertion of the address.  As one opens the country, one finds that Malta is missing (see picture).  Thus one will not be able to continue with the purchase.

We wrote to Marks & Spencer but to date, we did not receive any reply.  We will continue our pressure on such traders who discriminate against consumers who are living in Malta.

On your part, would you continue to buy from a firm or its local outlet which discriminates against you?!

 

3rd March 2017

Consumer Wins

The months of January and February 2017 can be marked as two months which were synonymous with consumer wins in the telecommunications area.  This is the result of the work which had been done behind closed doors by the Maltese Presidency both in Malta and in Brussels.

The first consumer win was with regard to roaming charges.    In October 2015 the EU decided to abolish retail roaming fees as of June 2017. But there was one final step for that new rule to be applicable: wholesale markets needed to be reformed.  In the meantime pressure started mounting on the EU by telecom operators to postpone and keep roaming charges high.

In June 2016 the European Commission published a proposal to reform the wholesale market. In just 7 months, the EU co-legislators agreed on this reform. Consumer organisations, including ours, are quite satisfied with the end-result. The new wholesale price caps are as follows:

o   Voice: 3.2cents/min

o   SMS: 1cent/min

o   Data:

  • 2017: 7.7€/Gb
  • 2018: 6€/Gb
  • 2019: 4.5€/Gb
  • 2020: 3.5€/Gb
  • 2021: 3€/Gb
  • 2022: 2.5€/Gb

This was a result of the work done by the Maltese Presidency which took over from the Slovakian Presidency at the beginning of this year and made this challenge as a key political priority.  This involved working up a deal between the institutions. This was not an easy task especially as some big member States such as Germany and France have been very strongly pushing against a significant decrease of these wholesale prices.

The significance of this deal can be seen from the fact that at April 2016 consumers used to pay 200€ for 1 GB of roaming data.  As from June they will be paying 7.7€/Gb.

The second win which occurred in the beginning of February deals with online subscriptions when travelling.  More and more consumers pay for subscriptions to watch TV series or listen to music.  Currently, consumers are often blocked from accessing their paid-for music streaming, video game or video-on-demand services when travelling to another EU country.

However, a deal which was reached at the beginning of February between European Parliament and Member State representatives would allow consumers who travel to another EU country to use their online subscriptions – for instance their Amazon Prime or Netflix streaming service – when abroad.

These new rules will apply to all current and new subscriptions without extra charges or time limits.

Monique Goyens, Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), commented:

“This is very good news for EU consumers. Artificial barriers blocking you from using your online video, music or game subscription contradict the very principle of a single market. Today we are getting one step closer to a digital single market that delivers for consumers.”

Now that roaming fees are becoming a thing of the past people will really benefit from their paid-for content when travelling.