More consumers are aware and demanding what is theirs by right

Maltese consumers were becoming increasingly aware of their rights and the Consumer Association had never been busier, its president said.

Run entirely by volunteers, the association was receiving an “unprecedented” 20 to 30 complaints a week, mainly related to online shopping, Benny Borg Bonello said.

World Consumer Day was marked on Tuesday.

“On a local level, last year was interesting. We witnessed a whole shift in attitude, especially when it came to the petrol station and gas debates. Consumers not only want competition but they're also frustrated the benefits are not there,” Mr Borg Bonello said.

One of the main challenges the association faced was online shops, some of which stopped selling to Malta following agreements with local shops, the he said.

To mark the day, BEUC, the European consumers' organisation, launched a campaign calling for the introduction of collective action – or class action lawsuits – where clients having similar complaints with regards the same provider could join up and seek collective redress in court. This, Mr Borg Bonello said, would have been useful in cases such as the removal of channels by cable TV providers and the cancellation of flights when the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland erupted, where the benefits would be outweighed by the inconveniences and costs wrought by an individual court case.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Consumers, Chris Said noted that work on the introduction of class action in Malta had started. He said regulations on home loans would be launched to afford more protection to those taking such loans.

The Consumer Association welcomed the proposed introduction of a consumer affairs authority but called for it to be as independent as possible from ministerial interference and to be accountable directly to Parliament.

published in the Times of Malta of the 18th March 2011