FACUA proposes list of 10 demands to the political organisations that attended the November 10th elections

FACUA demands for an organisation that imposes fines on massive frauds, sets a maximum price for renting, improves food product security, and regulates customer service, amongst other requirements.

FACUA proposes list of 10 demands to the political organisations that attended the November 10th elections

FACUA-Consumers in Action presents ten proposals to the political organisations that coincide with the General Elections on November 10th in order to improve consumer protection and fight against fraud.

FACUA demands that the State accepts its power and imposes fines on companies that commit massive fraud, that limits financial and liberalised sector rates and their abusive clauses, and regulates the compensation available for consumers who have been subject to contractual or legal breaches.

Furthermore, FACUA demands that policies are developed to guarantee everyone access to basic supplies and somewhere to live, with a fixed rate for the maximum renting prices, in addition to more control and transparency in regards to food products and dangerous products, as well as the regulation of customer services, ensuring that the principal sectors have set responses to complaints, free telephone numbers and online client services.

FACUA hope that the principal political parties value these developments and that they are incorporated into their future governmental action, facilitating the formation of better protection for consumer rights. In recent years, the amount of fraud has only increased whilst governmental control has reduced; they have not put the necessary regulatory advances to defend user interests in place.

FACUA recall that in Spain the State lacks the power to impose fines on businesses that do not act in a consumers best interest, something that only the autonomous communities have, which comes from a lack of sound measures against these massive frauds. For which, an urgent change in the regulatory framework is required; one that creates a state organisation with exclusive responsibility in regards to user protection with the intention of imposing fines on those that breach the consumer legislation that affects consumers from various autonomous communities.

FACUA'S 10 PROPOSALS FOR CONSUMER PROTECTION

1.- The creation of a State Agency for Consumer and User Protection.The creation of a State organisation that protects consumers and users with their own planning skills, coordination and sanctions, to act against massive frauds.

An organisation that is capable of defining and planning political strategies for consumer and user protection from a transversal optic including all governmental areas, and in coordination with the autonomous communities. It is fundamental to reinforce the role of an independent organisation (one that is not shared between other areas and competencies) that truly realise the politics of consumer protection in the national environment.

In order to protect consumer rights against breaches, it is necessary to guarantee the existence of effective mechanisms that control the market.

The State Agency for Consumer Protection will consist of an ample professional body with inspectors dedicated to market control that will realise trade investigations and evaluate and coordinate the complaints that the autonomous authorities and consumer rights associations have brought to attention, in addition to exchanging information about the breaches that have been detected in the market with the rest of the governmental organisations with understanding of regulations, control, and sanctions.

The agency would work in collaboration with the institutes, agencies and general departments for autonomous consumption, in a way which would allow for the exchange of information and facilitate a synergy. It will also work in collaboration with the organisations dedicated to consumer rights defense, that will have the consideration of the interested part in procedures that get to the root of the complaints or act on behalf of those affected.

This Agency would reinforce market control, the role of the regulators, and inspection services, supporting the autonomous communities and coordinating annual inspection and market control plans.

Furthermore, it would develop annual programs for the inspection and control of the national market in collaboration with the consumers and consumer organisations in order to impose action and measures to improve the sectors with the worst results, whilst accepting that the State is responsible for imposing sanctions against frauds that affect the consumers from various autonomous communities and with an organisation of inspections, sanctions, and collaboration competencies.

We need regulated independent and neutral and independent market control organisations; nationwide and continent wide, with the participation of consumer organisations in advisory bodies and management hoping to preserve a balance with the economic operators.

2.- The establishment of stronger control and revision of the situations that require sanctions, ensuring that the fines are proportional to the frauds against consumers.

The updating the consolidated text of the General Law for Consumer and User Defense, as well as the rest of the rules that affect the protection of users and compliance of the sanction laws of the autonomous communities.

The establishment of stronger inspection services, increasing the activity of market control and improving its performance and the coordination between them. We will consider that the material and human Administration measures in regards to inspection must be orientated toward an effective market control, benefitting the combination of the citizens and the consumers and users, reinforcing the sanction and inspection tasks of fraudulent and harmful behaviour for consumer rights.

The previously established fining framework in the legislation that affects consumer protection must be revised so that any and all fines imposed are proportional to the seriousness of the abuses and that they actively discourage companies from committing the frauds. The fixed fines in the current regulations in regards to consumer and user protection (and that have been used as a reference for the laws for the autonomous communities) have barely varied since their approval in 1984, despite their successive modifications. Bearing in mind that inflation has increased by more than 200% since then, we can say that today the sanctions are three times more reduced than the fixed sanctions more than thirty years ago.

3.- The development of effective instruments for the extrajudicial resolution of conflicts and the recognition of the right to compensation or reparation for damages caused to the consumer through administrative errors.

It is precisely the managing a regulation that allows consumers and users access to conflict-free extrajudicial procedures that are independent and capable of resolving an issue, this is binding for the business owner: mediation and arbitration.

They must suppress the barriers that consumers can encounter exercising and defending their rights, avoiding judicialisation of the abuses committed against the consumers that put them at a disequality due to the elevated cost of the judicial assistance, the duration, and the complexity of such procedures. They must promote their extrajudicial litigation solution procedures, such as mediation, reconciliation, or arbitration.

It is precisely the development of article 49 of the Royal Legislative Decree 1/2007 on the substitution of the altered situation for the infracture and compensation for damage or loss and regulation of the consumer's right to be compensated when they are subject to a contract or invoice breach, for products or services (a charge for an amount that does not correspond to the amount obtained, subscriptions for unsolicited services, unfulfillment of the conditions of the sale or of the product's quality).

4.- The intervention in liberalised sectors (telecommunications, energy, fuel) to guarantee (universal) access, regulation of conditions and prices, facing limited competition practices.

This would aim to guarantee access to electronic services, that are essential for human development and health. The reformations in the sector (privatisations and liberalisations, amongst others) have generated social exclusion and more poverty. There is no verification that there has been an advancement in efficiency and quality in the presentation of these services. The national regulation has not allowed the development of accessible prices nor has it yielded a better quality in its presentation. There are, therefore, notable deficitions in regulations and in control in this area to the detriment of the more vulnerable consumers and citizens, generating exclusion and discrimination in regards to access to basic services.

Opening a revision and questioning process of the liberalisation process for the energy sector that has been proved dysfunctional, energy exclusion, increase of prices, and has not brought an increase to the quality of such services.

The intervention in prices, electric system auditing, and revision of all of the regulated costs, as well as modification of the conformation methodology for electricity prices, ensuring that the system has maximum transparency, just like the reduction in the VAT that is applied to the cost of electricity in homes.

The guarantee the social and proportional participation in respect to the rest of the agents of the consumer organisations in sector-regulated organisations, guaranteeing its independent function and a proportional representative for the importance of the consumers and users collective.

5.- The guarantee of basic rights for human life and development in dignified conditions.

Human right to water and sanitation

The human right to water and sanitation in the terms established in the European Citizen Initiative for human rights to water and sanitation must be guaranteed.

This requires transparent and participatory public management for water services, understanding the access to water and sanitation as a human necessity.

Human right to shelter

The end to housing evictions and payment on account with a real compromise in the fight and search for solutions against evictions through all of those regulatory instruments of control and supervision, mediations and of conflict resolution that may be possible, guaranteeing the participation and coordination of competent administrations, in addition to that of the representative citizen consumer and user organisations.

Regulation of maximum prices for renting housing and new approach to and drive for social housing in which empty housing would transfer into the bank's possession and capital funds, and the promotion of social renting. Social housing is essential in accordance with the objectives established in the 2020 European Strategy, its objective on poverty in particular, and prevention of the transmission of intergenerational disadvantage. A new focus on social housing that can contribute to employment, inclusion, and social cohesion guarantee.

A challenge decided because a new sustainable construction model rests on the quality of the buildings and the social business responsibility, with regulatory models and control and safety instruments and not only from the autoregulation of good practices.

Human right to health

To defend a public health care system model, one that is free and universally available with ample citizen participation, managing under parameters of quality, speed, efficiency, funded by a public budget and citizen control.

Guarantee access to health care system for every person and the effective recovery of the universal right to health.

Human right to education

To support education as a progressive tool and its social and individual development. We consider increasing public education resources a priority, ensuring that they meet existing educational needs. We understand that the use of private education, religious or otherwise, must also be considered a legitimate citizen right, but that it must not support itself by use of public resources nor funds. For which, we consider that the effort of the Administration and the public resources must be allocated to guarantee the payment of the existing necessities through public teaching under parameters of quality and participation of all the educational community.

6.- The establishment of stronger general security for products, including food products, and the facilitation of more transparency in information on potential risks.

Whilst the state and autonomous administrations and the business sector form a part of the alert networks, the associations for consumer rights (such as FACUA) and those that are government owned are excluded from the system; we have only been assigned a passive role -a mere receptor of information, which is frequently incomplete and late, about some of the alerts on food-based products. This, in addition, is established in a context that allows the competent authorities to bring fewer resources; it is formed of autocontrol in detriment to the control and supervision of the markets that are globalised and dilute their agents' responsibilities in production, distribution and commercialization of goods and services intervention.

This must trigger a reform of the Food Security Law, reinforcing the mechanisms and instruments for warning and prevention. It is necessary to advance towards a higher degree of transparency and information about goods and products and their risks, and the network for alerts and risk assessment must be better presented to the representatives of the consumer and user organisations, giving them a more active role.

The introduction of improvements to the 2011 Food Security Law and application and development protocols that reinforce transparency and information for citizens and ensure that administrative and manufacturing companies -wholesalers and retailers- comply with a series of informative measures that guarantee that even the smallest commercial, hospitality, and consumer companies are reached. As such, when a food alert is produced, the manufacturer just as much as the wholesalers and retailers must be obliged to be forthcoming with this information, from sending such communications to the press until the information is published on their website, to the use of posters in establishments to warn users of the issue.

7.- The implementation of a sustainable, fair, and democratic energy supply model.

Implementing a model that truly places the consumer in the centre of the system and guarantees any citizen the right to access the energy systems that are essential for a dignified life and stop impede any interruption of such services caused by families' or consumers' economic insecurity. As such, implementing renewable energies and self-sufficiency.

8.- The amplification and improvement in the banking and finance sector's regulation for the protection of users' rights.

Limitation and elimination of excessive or abusive banking commissions, better control on abusive clauses in trading of products and financial services, and the revision of the role, competencies and functions of the regulators.

9.- The regulation of customer service.

Basic service businesses and those with higher volumes of trade deals will guarantee the processing of consumers' subscriptions, unsubscriptions, queries and complaints without imposing any economical cost in a maximum term and with the payment of compensation if breaches or failures occur.

Breaches and errors must be brought to the attention of consumers, especially for sectors like telecommunications and energy, as these generate a high level of complaints in consumer rights associations and consumer administrations; requests to unsubscribe are ignored, there are subscriptions to services with conditions that do not align with what was offered, and complaints that never even receive a response… those are a few of the breaches that users have been subjected to.

The regulation of customer service in the telecommunication, energy supply, banking, security, water supply, food and drink manufacturers, large commercial areas and other sectors by facilitating online support and creating free telephone numbers. In the other business sectors, customer service phone numbers cannot imply a call cost that is higher than one from a fixed landline or a national mobile telephone number and its pricing should be included in the bonds and flat rates of the telecommunications companies.

When a consumer makes a complaint, a query, a subscription/unsubscription request, or an appeal to modify their contract through customer service, the business will have to send them a written communication immediately, via mobile or email, in which the reception of the communication is confirmed. This way users are able to show proof that their request is being dealt with.

The customer service law will regulate the maximum term in which companies, depending on the sector of their activities, will have to answer client queries, and potentially offer economic compensation if this is not done.

The law will authorise consumers to use the recordings made of their calls to customer service as proof in any complaint against the competent administration or in court without needing to advise the company.

10.- The requirement of real and effective participation of organised civil society in the organisations with regulatory power and fraud control, both in their decision-making bodies and the reinforcement of their role in advisory services, those which must issue binding reports.

The recognition of consumer rights associations as an interested party in sanctioning procedures for massive frauds or those that have been opened at the root of the complaint presented by them.

The improvement of the participation of consumers and their representative organisations.

Participation of consumers, so far, is insufficient. There is a great disequality between the presence and the intervention of the large business groups and the participation of the consumer organisations' representatives.

The absence of consumers in the process of regulation has maintained a closed and lacklustre process in which the interests of the consumer (and even more economically marginalised) are often overshadowed by the interests and concerns of the goods-supply companies, services that are closely linked with power groups, and decision-making groups.