Consumer Affairs

Over the last thirty years consumer issues have become more prominent as a result of activities by consumer pressure groups in particular. 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 also 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. When you go to the hairdresser or to the cinema as a consumer you are availing of a service. When you go to a store to buy runners or clothes you are a consumer of a product. Before making a purchase of a product or service, an informed consumer should take account of the following:

If the consumer can answer the above questions, then they are informed and should have little difficulty. 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. In making a purchase of very expensive items it would be wise for a consumer to give the matter great consideration. Quality symbols such as Guaranteed Irish should be sought out. Branding is the common method used by business to aid in the marketing of their goods and also to symbolise quality and create a distinction from competitors. Examples include, Nike, Levi’s and Sony.

Consumer Legislation
There has been a significant improvement in consumer rights and legislation in Ireland over the last twenty years. Directives from the European Union have also been beneficial in this area. ‘Caveat Emptor’ a Latin phrase, meaning ‘Let the buyer beware’ should still be heeded by the consumer despite the improvement in consumer rights when undertaking a purchase.

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

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 law with a number of other matters. Small Claims Court
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. Enforcing awards has so far proved the biggest obstacle.

Ombudsman
From Swedish the term means ‘watchdog’. 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 acts like a referee in these matters. An ombudsman also exists for credit institutions and for the insurance industry.

Consumer Problems
Outline what rights you have as a consumer in the following cases:

(A) You buy a sweater in a sale as a ‘second’. After the first wash it shrinks.
(B) You bought a jacket that was described as ‘pure leather’. On examination after arriving home, you discover on the label that it is not leather at all.
(C) A mechanic repaired your car but there is still a problem. You later find out that he had used old parts.
(D) You see a Freezer that you like with a label that stated ‘free delivery to all areas’. However the retailer demanded 5% of the purchase price as you live ‘too far away’.
(E) A travel brochure stated that there would be a swimming pool at the apartment complex at the resort you were going to. When you arrived there, you discovered there  as none.
(F) You received a green sweatshirt as a Christmas present. You did not like the present and presented it along with the receipt, demanding a refund. The shop refused a refund but said they were willing to exchange.
(G) A shop that you purchased a faulty CD player from, had a sign over the cash desk that stated ‘No refunds’.