Press releases

European consumer service launched to help resolve complaints

Consumers with complaints about shoddy goods, flights or holidays purchased from traders based in Europe now have somewhere new to turn for specialist help.

The UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) was officially launched today (14 November) to help resolve complaints about traders and businesses based on the Continent, particularly linked to online shopping, Internet auctions, flights and holidays.

The service is one of 27 across Europe coordinated by the European Commission to help resolve so-called 'cross-border disputes', while also helping raise awareness about consumer rights and the potential risks involved in buying from abroad.

The UK centre is co-funded by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

Consumer Affairs Minister Gareth Thomas was due to join Ron Gainsford, chief executive of the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) and Jed Mayatt, the European Consumer Centre manager, at an official launch today (Wednesday November 14) at the centre, hosted at TSI head office in Basildon.

The opening comes during National Consumer Week, an annual TSI-led consumer awareness initiative which runs all week (12-16 November).

Ron Gainsford, TSI's chief executive, said the centre was a vital new weapon in the fight to protect consumers from rogues.

'We are seeing dramatic growth in the number of people buying goods and services from companies and traders based abroad, particularly through online shops, Internet auctions and online airlines.

'It is vital those consumers understand their rights and have somewhere to turn for specialist help in the event of a dispute. The UK European Consumer Centre here at TSI will provide the capacity and expertise to help consumers to get redress when problems arise.'

Consumer Affairs Minister Gareth Thomas said: 'People shouldn't just forget about an online or overseas shopping experience that goes wrong. Consumers have rights when they shop within Europe and the Government has funded this centre to help people secure them.'

'Everyone deserves the opportunity of getting the best deals available across Europe, confident in the knowledge that if something goes wrong there are effective ways of handling complaints and getting redress.

'A major advantage of the new centre is that it can call on its locally-based counterparts across Europe for assistance when incidents occur.'

Jed Mayatt, UK ECC centre manager, said: 'This approach is hugely beneficial, as the local centre will be aware of the laws and cultural differences operating there and will speak the same language, so making the entire process less time-consuming and more effective.'

The UK centre is already building up a caseload after its telephone advice service went live in August.

In one case, UK staff are liaising with centres in Spain and Malta to try to resolve complaints from a group of British holidaymakers who endured an 'appalling' summer holiday in Malta that was organised by a Spanish holiday club they had joined, said Mr Mayatt.

'They booked a 4-star self-catering holiday at a Malta resort hotel. When they arrived they were advised there was no self-catering option, so had to pay a substantial extra sum for half-board instead. They have complained about being forced to pay these additional costs, about the cleanliness of their rooms and the hotel, and about health and safety issues.

'We are working with our colleagues in Spain and Malta to clarify the situation and resolve the dispute for the consumers and hope to be able to progress it quickly.'

Anyone who wants help or advice about goods or services purchased from countries within the EU, or from Iceland or Norway, which support the initiative, contact the UK ECC by calling 08456 04 05 03 or check out the online service at UK ECC

The UK European Consumer Centre will be officially opened at TSI headquarters at 1 Sylvan Court, Sylvan Way, Southfields Business Park, Basildon, Essex SS15 6TH at 11am on Wednesday November 14.

Media are welcome to attend the event, which will run for one hour followed by a light buffet. Please notify TSI press office on 0845 608 9430 if you wish to attend, or email pressoffice@tsi.org.uk

For more information about NCW generally, including press releases, case studies & interviews, or to discuss your requirements at the launch itself, please contact the TSI press office on 0845 608 9430 or email pressoffice@tsi.org.uk

National Consumer Week

This is the 17th annual National Consumer Week organised by the Trading Standards Institute and for the third year in association with Consumer Direct, the government-funded consumer advice telephone and online service.

National Consumer Week is a platform to raise awareness about specific consumer issues and particularly to highlight new developments in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace. It profiles the work of and is supported by local authority trading standards services across the UK.

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.

Consumer Direct - 08454 04 05 06 Consumer Direct

Consumer Direct is a Government-funded telephone and online consumer advice service that works in partnership with Local Authority Trading Standards Services.

It provides clear, practical and impartial advice and information to help consumers resolve problems and disagreements with suppliers of goods and services. Consumer Direct is available from 0800-1830 Monday to Friday, and 0900-1300 Saturday, excluding bank and public holidays.

Calls cost a maximum of 4p per minute from a BT landline. Calls from mobiles or other networks may vary. Your service provider may charge a minimum cost per call. The advice and information given is free.