It can be hard to know basic things like your consumer rights and who to turn to for help when you are living in a foreign country.
As consumers handing over our hard earned money for goods and services, there can be nothing worse than feeling ripped off or disappointed. Even more frustrating is not knowing what to do about it. Then there are the rights we don’t even realise we have. Like, did you know travellers affected by certain flight delays and cancellations could be eligible for up to €600 in compensation?
So we spoke to legal advisor Nora Shoki from European Consumer Centre Sweden (ECC Sweden) to find out about the most common issues and how to get free assistance if you need it.
ECC Sweden offers legal advice and mediation on consumer rights in cross-border trade within the EU, Iceland, Norway and the UK. Last year alone it received 7,189 questions.
As part of the ECC Network, ECC Sweden can assist consumers by putting them in touch with other offices in its EU-wide network to help resolve issues. In 2021, ECC Sweden shared 110 complaints to its colleagues within the ECC Network, and in turn it received 934 cases involving Swedish traders.
The most common problems
The two biggest areas for consumer issues, according to ECC Sweden, are online shopping and travel.
Online shopping continues to grow in the EU. A 2021 Eurostat survey showed that 90 percent of people aged 16 to 74 in the EU had used the internet the year before, 74 percent of whom had bought or ordered goods or services for private use. And when it comes to who shops online the most in the EU, Sweden ranks in the top three (after the Netherlands and Denmark).
It makes sense that a rise in online shopping also means a rise in issues around ecommerce. Most of us would have had some sort of online shopping experience that wasn’t quite right. It’s hard to tell the quality of something from a computer screen. Maybe the fabric or sizing was bad, your item turned up broken, or didn’t arrive at all.
Another area that has always been a cause for consumer problems is travel. The enormous amount of disruption to air travel brought on by the pandemic has meant many more cases concerning airlines in recent years, says Nora.
What to do if you have an issue
If you’ve had an issue buying something – whether a product or service – or are curious to know more about your rights as a Swedish consumer, the first port of call for information should be the website Halla Konsument (Hello Consumer), explains Nora. This is an independent service by Konsumentverket (the Swedish Consumer Agency), with information in a range of languages. Hello Consumer also has a range of guides depending on your issue – from cancelled flights to card complaints to problems with a hotel to finding out exactly what your right of withdrawal is.
“Hello Consumer can assist people with their consumer issues, and if they need further assistance in their case, and the trader is based within the EU, Norway, Iceland or the UK, then they can transfer the case to us at ECC Sweden,” says Nora.
“Perhaps you’re not able to solve the dispute or the company doesn’t respond when you contact them,” she explains. In that case, Nora advises you can contact ECC Sweden and they will help in the best way they can. Sometimes knowing your rights plus having an official letter can really help you get taken more seriously!
“We’ll firstly provide legal advice on how to solve the case. And if the consumer isn’t able to solve the case by themselves, then we’ll investigate it based on the documentation that we received from the consumer. And if necessary, we’ll send the case to the ECC office in which the trader is based,” says Nora, adding that they can also mediate with a company to fight for the consumer’s rights.
“It’s important for the consumers to know that we’re always standing by their side.
“For example, if we have a Swedish consumer, her name is Anna, she has a dispute with an airline that is based in Germany, we’ll send the case to our colleagues at ECC Germany, and they will contact the airline in order to mediate between Anna and the airline.”
In general, people know when something is wrong, says Nora. But when it comes down to the specifics of a law that helps a consumer – like when you’re eligible for compensation from a delayed flight, or how long you can own something before it is no longer covered by a warranty – people tend not to know their exact rights and how to use them.
Explains Nora, “Say you buy something online and it arrives in your letterbox and it’s faulty in some way or another. In Sweden, by law, you have up to three years to file a complaint on faulty products. And if you purchase the product from a company in another EU country, you have at least two years.”
Things to know
There are a few instances when ECC Sweden is not able to help out. Like if the dispute is between two traders or between private persons.
If a consumer has already initiated legal action, such as if they’re already contacted a lawyer about going to court with a case or a complaint has been filed with Allmänna reklamationsnämnden (the National Board for Consumer Disputes), ECC Sweden is not able to assist them
Naturally, some cases may be more complicated than others. Nora points out a typical instance related to travel.
“These days it is common for us to buy airfares through an online travel agency,” she says. “But if something goes wrong, it’s worth knowing that your opponent in the dispute, according to EU law, is the airline, not the travel agency.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that Nora recommends purchasing your airfares directly from the airline. Just be aware that you may need to be in contact with more than one company if your flight is cancelled or there is some other issue.
Read up on your rights
So what can we do to better protect ourselves and avoid consumer rights headaches in the future?
Nora advises to be prepared for what might happen. Read about your rights, spend a few minutes researching the company before you buy or sign anything. Another two minutes of your time should also be spent reading the terms and conditions, she says.
Also consider how you make your purchase. Using a credit card usually means you can use the bank’s service to get your money back if you need to.
And it is worth knowing where a company is based before you make a purchase, because if it is outside the EU, Iceland, Norway or the UK, your rights will be different.
“It’s important to understand that if you live in Sweden, you have all the rights that other Swedish citizens have,” says Nora. “That would be my number one message.”