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Plenary focus: Strasbourg plenary session 21-24 May 2012

EP looks at how to better protect consumers

This illustration picture shows a mother and her two sons as they are shopping in a supermarket   Consumers, especially vulnerable groups such as young people, should be given more protection according to a new EP report © ELGA/Imageglobe/J.Hamers

Consumers in the EU still lack sufficient protection, which is why more needs to be done to strengthen their rights. That is the view of Spanish Social-Democrat María Irigoyen Pérez, who has written a report on the rights of vulnerable consumers. In it she suggest solutions for tackling common problems in sectors such as transport, finance and the internet. The report was adopted by Parliament on 22 May 2012

The issue

Protecting and promoting consumers´ rights are at the heart of European policies. But so far, EU legislation have addressed the problem of vulnerability on a case by case basis. More consistency is needed, according to the report. Commission and member states must develop a strategy in tune with people's habits and the changes in their behaviour that could put some of them at risk. Specific protection measures can then help to prevent such harmful behaviour.

Problematic sectors

Financial sector: existing requirements on product information and product suitability do not do enough to protect vulnerable consumers, especially not the elderly. It has been estimated that 70% of websites belonging to financial institutions and companies contain errors concerning basic information on their products, while costs are presented in a misleading way. The report calls  for clear and simple info on products and services, as well as financial literacy programmes.

Food: young people are more susceptible to advertising promoting food with a high fat, salt and sugar content. The European Commission should analyse the need for stricter advertising rules.

Transport: in spite of existing rules, travellers still find themselves in precarious situations on a regular basis, especially when there are delays or cancellations. The situation is even worse for disabled passengers. There are also issues with unfair terms at low-cost airlines.  Fares that are difficult to understand can lead to some consumers paying three times more than others. The Commission should take vulnerable travellers into account when revising EU passenger rights legislation and ensure better information and access to claim procedures.

Internet: social networks use targeted advertising to focus on minors, taking advantage of social pressure. The Commission should analyse the impact of misleading and aggressive advertising on vulnerable consumers.

Liberalised markets: the liberalisation of the main supply markets made it more difficult to identify  tariffs that best meets consumers’ needs. It has also been difficult to change providers and make sense of the bill. The Commission, member states and businesses should work together  to ensure access to clear, understandable and comparable information about fees and conditions.