Conflict and the Consumer

Over the last thirty years consumer issues have become more prominent as a result of activities by consumer interest groups in particular. The emergence of consumerism has placed greater pressures on business to come up with better product and service offerings. The media has also played its’ part in promoting consumer issues with specific consumer programmes on TV and radio. As a consequence, legislators both in Ireland and at European Union level have brought forward new legislation to improve and protect consumer rights. Business has responded by improving customer service levels particularly in the area of after sale. A consumer is a person who buys products or services for personal use. A good consumer should always shop around to make comparisons for best value. A consumer should not just focus on price, as quality and durability are also essential consideration in making a purchase.

Problems encountered by consumers

Consumer Protection and Legislation
The adoption and upgrading of legislation on the statute books have helped to improve the lot of the consumer. The consumer should always remember the term ‘caveat emptor ‘meaning’ let the buyer beware. However, the consumer is better protected than in the past.
There is still a long way to go as illustrated by bank scandals relating to overcharging. Various statutory bodies such as the Ombudsman and the Director of Consumer Affairs will need more resources.

Small Claims Court
The aim of this court is to be consumer oriented and to be accessible, speedy, inexpensive and fair. If you are looking for a remedy for relatively small amounts of money you can take the case to this court. Unlike the District Court there is no need for lawyers and cases can be conducted speedily and cheaply. If a problem cannot be resolved at this court it will then be processed at District Court level. Enforcing awards has so far proved the biggest obstacle.

Ombudsman
From Swedish the term means ‘watchdog’. The task of the ombudsman is to investigate complaints from the general public who feel that they have been unfairly treated by certain public bodies. The state’s ombudsman gets involved on behalf of the customer where there has been inaction and inefficiency in dealing with complaints to public bodies and government departments. An ombudsman is regarded as a mediator or conciliator and acts like a referee in these matters. An ombudsman has the power to demand information or a file from the complained body. He/She can require an official of the said body to attend a meeting with the ombudsman to answer to their actions concerning the complaint. An ombudsman also now exists for credit institutions and for the insurance industry. The credit institutions and the insurance industry pay for the cost of this service.

The Consumer Information Act 1978
This act requires that all advertisements to be legal. Prohibiting false or misleading advertisements about prices, goods and services protects consumers.
It is a criminal offence to give false trade descriptions regarding goods and services. An example of a trade description ‘Pure Gold’.

Director of Consumer Affairs
Functions The Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980
This law was introduced to update the Sale of Goods Act 1893. As the title of the Act illustrates, it did not take account of service providers. This was dealt with under this particular law with a number of other matters.         1.If 30 days have elapsed after the consumer has given written notice to the sender of the fact that the goods are unsolicited.
        2.At the end of six months, if the sender has not collected the goods and if the consumer has not prevented collection.

Data Protection Act 1988
This law was enacted to deal with privacy issues emanating from the widespread availability of information stored on computer about individuals and businesses.
Under the law the office of Data Protection Commissioner was established, with responsibility for supervising and monitoring the provisions contained in the legislation. The commissioner will also be responsible for preparing and publishing an annual report. The main provisions are as follows:

Legal Rights of individuals