Cyprus has been selected as one of nine EU countries to be targeted in a new campaign making consumers more aware of their rights.
News of the campaign's impending launch on Wednesday came alongside a presentation of the results of a report on the behaviour of consumers in Cyprus. The report showed the highest percentage of complaints in 2013 related to transportation.
Presented on Wednesday, the European Consumer Centre Cyprus annual report for 2013 found the transportation sector absorbed 28% of the 152 complaints made. The majority of these were connected to delayed and cancelled flights as well as to the loss of luggage and car rentals (see box).
Also speaking to the press yesterday, European Commission Director for Consumer Policy Despina Spanou said a new law, already incorporated into Cyprus legislation, would come into force on June 13, essentially replacing an earlier directive on consumer rights. This new law also paid particular attention to online commerce, she said.
Spanou said according to the new law, if a consumer in Cyprus purchases a product from anywhere else in the EU and then changes their mind about wanting it, they will be entitled to a full refund. The consumer will, however, be responsible for covering the cost of returning the product to its seller.
The new law also regulates hidden costs, protecting consumers from paying the cost for credit card use as well as from pre-selected boxes offering additional charges to orders without the consumer being made fully aware of them.
Yesterday's briefing also referred to concerns over some airlines informing consumers of additional charges for luggage or other services only after they had paid the full amount and exited the reservation website. The new directive aims to ensure customers are made fully aware of all the charges in advance of final payment.
Also speaking at yesterday's briefing Permanent Secretary of the Commerce Ministry's Competition and Consumer Protection Service Pambos Charalambous said the European Consumer Centre network, of which the Cyprus Centre was member, had a very important role to play.
This was particularly, true, he said, at a time when more and more contemporary European citizens were turning to Europe-wide commerce.
According to Charalambous, in 2013, over 80,000 European consumers turned to the network for information or advice on their distance commercial exchanges. Of these, 32,000 involved the submission of complaints, indicating a 9% increase in the number of complaints handled in 2012.
Charalambous also said the new campaign on consumer rights would provide important information on the new directive coming into force next month.
In his address yesterday, the Head of European Commission Representation in Cyprus, George Markopouliotis, said consumer protection policies were amongst the EU's many success stories. The EU worked continuously to ensure its 500 million consumers enjoyed a high level of safety while their rights were being respected.
Markopouliotis also said consumer protection was a sector where Europe had a direct effect on the lives of its citizens and was able to improve their daily life on a practical basis.
He gave the example of the more than 2,000 dangerous products removed from European shop shelves every year through RAPEX, the EU's specialised watchdog. European law, Markopouliotis added, empowered consumers and strengthened their rights in many sectors.
This means it is crucial for consumers to be aware of their rights and to exercise them, noting only 9% of Cypriot consumers asked said they were aware of what they were entitled to. "If they are not aware of their rights, they will not exercise them," he said.