New report shows that European consumers face discrimination based on their nationality or place of residence

Bolzano, 29 November 2013. Have you ever been unable to buy something because of where you live? Or been charged a higher price based on your country of residence? Today, the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) launches a report which finds that consumers are frequently facing restrictions when they try to avail of cross-border services and are often confronted with refusals to supply or unequal conditions because they come from or live in another EU country.

The report “Enhanced Consumer Protection – the Services Directive 2006/123/EC”, analyses complaints reported to ECC-Net over a three year period and highlights the current practical difficulties faced by consumers when attempting to access cross-border services in the Single Market.

The Services Directive, implemented in December 2009, prohibits discriminatory conditions based on the nationality or residence of service recipients and consumers should no longer face difficulties in accessing services on these grounds. However ECC-Net is concerned that such problems still persist.

Key Findings

  • 222 complaints concerning discrimination in access to services were reported to ECC-Net. It is suspected that complaints are under-reported due to a lack of awareness amongst consumers.
  • Over 75% of the complaints reported to ECC-Net related to discrimination based on consumers’ place of residence rather than their nationality.
  • Refusal to supply was the most frequent cause for consumer complaints, followed by price differentiation and difference in other conditions of access. eCommerce was the main channel through which consumers faced discrimination when attempting to access services
  • The report found consumers are most frequently confronted with price or service differentiation when trying to purchase goods such as electronic items, clothes, and digital downloads (74%). Other problematic sectors for consumers were in the provision of tourism and leisure services (21%) and in car rental and leasing services (5%).
  • The report notes a significant problem with a lack of awareness of the protection consumers enjoy under the Services Directive, not just amongst consumers themselves but also amongst service providers and competent enforcement authorities.
  • More than 32% of complaints received required direct intervention on the part of ECC-Net. A successful outcome was reached in nearly 50% of such cases, while 8 service providers changed their business practices following engagement with ECC-Net.

Herbert Dorfmann, MEP, who will launch the report said: “Too often consumers are unable to access the benefits of the Single Market due to discrimination based on their nationality or place of residence. Although the Services Directive strengthens the rights of recipients of services, consumers need this legislation to work effectively in practice. It’s of the utmost importance to work on consumer rights in the digital market. The report shows that much work remains to be done to ensure that consumers’ rights are respected”.

Case Studies
Two families resident in Italy booked a stay in an Italian hotel via an Austrian tour operator. Upon arrival at the hotel, the families were asked to pay an additional fee of €400. When queried, the hotel and tour operator informed the consumers that Italians are obliged to pay an additional fee for a club card enabling them to use the hotel’s amenities. After intervention by ECC Austria the tour operator refunded the additional fee of €400.

An Irish resident booked a rental car online for a trip to the UK. Upon arrival at the rental location, the consumer was informed that he would have to pay an additional £500 deposit on the grounds that he was a holder of a non-UK driving licence. ECC Ireland informed the consumer of his rights and invited him to contact them again if further assistance was required.

A UK resident wished to purchase a pair of boots online and discovered that the UK branch of the company was charging £40 more than the German shop. The consumer attempted to purchase from the German website in Euros but the trader refused the transaction stating that this would cause an ‘unfair advantage‘ for the consumer.ECC Germany raised this issue with the store concerned but they refused to alter their pricing policy.

A consumer from Malta tried to purchase sport shoes from a German manufacturer. The website of the trader stated that shipping is free to all EU countries except Malta where the shipping would amount to €50. Following correspondence from ECC Germany, the manufacturer changed its policy and now also ships to Malta for free, if the consumers pay the purchase price in advance.

For more information please contact:
Kristina Vaksmaa, Director of ECC Estonia
+3725101729
kristina.vaksmaa@consumer.ee