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Marking 10 years of consumer complaints – a hair transplant, masturbation aid, fingers in dog food, ghost-hunting and flowers

Posted 13/12/17

A ghost-hunting device, flowers, hair transplant, human fingers in dog food and a masturbation aid are just a few of the more bizarre subjects for complaints received from UK consumers by the UK European Consumer Centre consumer advice line within the past year.

Based in the UK, the UK ECC is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the knowledge that it has helped more than 84,000 UK consumers since it started. 

Andy Allen, service director at the UK ECC, said: “It’s fantastic that our consumer advisors have been able to help so many UK consumers in the past 10 years. We also remain one of the busiest centres within the European Consumer Centre network of 30 centres - we handled more than 10,000 cases (complaints and information requests) last year (2016) alone – and we do tend to get some ‘more unusual’ enquiries. No matter how unusual the case is, every complaint is important to the consumer and we always do our best. There are, of course, the more common subject areas for complaint. 

“Our aim is to help as many UK consumers as possible who encounter problems with a trader based in Europe, to achieve a resolution: a replacement, repair, refund or cancellation of their contract. We also receive cases from European consumers who are having problems with a UK trader and every effort is made to contact the trader to resolve the complaint.

“We have certainly had some bizarre complaints in the 10 years the UK ECC has been going, but they are all part of the rich tapestry of cases which have helped us build up an excellent insight into the problems UK consumers are experiencing when buying in Europe and also what problems European consumers are having when shopping in the UK.” 

Problems relating to transport (including passenger transport by air and car rental), recreation and culture (including photographic and video equipment) and restaurants, hotels and accommodation (including timeshares and discount holiday clubs) have dominated the issues raised by UK consumers about traders across Europe. 

The types of complaints the UK ECC has dealt with in its 10 years have been as varied as the countries within the EU: 

  •          Hair transplant

A UK man paid 4,200 Euro for a hair transplant to be done in Hungary. The work carried a guarantee. The consumer carried out all of the post-operative advice, including massaging his hair, but said that after at least six months the operation hadn’t worked and that his hair regrowth was patchy. The consumer contacted the trader, who said that the guarantee wasn’t valid because their doctor had already advised the consumer that the transplant was not likely to work all over his head. 

Andy said: “The consumer approached the UK ECC for help, saying that the treatment hadn’t been successful and wanted the procedure to be done again. We took the case up with our Bulgarian counterparts, who secured agreement for the trader for a partial £1,000 refund. The trader’s doctor maintained that the consumer’s head wasn’t suitable for a full hair transplant. The consumer said he did not want to accept the refund and was advised that his only alternative was to pursue the matter through the courts.” 

  •          Masturbation aid

A UK man paid 249 Euro for a masturbation aid device online from a trader based in the Netherlands.  After delivery, the consumer inspected it and decided that it wasn’t what he wanted, so contacted the trader to ask for a full refund. The trader said that they wouldn’t accept the item back because it was not sealed in its original packing, referring him to their stated terms and conditions which said that they wouldn’t accept opened or used items for return. 

Andy said: “The consumer argued that under the EU Consumer Contracts Regulations he was allowed to return goods bought online for a full refund within 14 days or purchase. He contacted the UK ECC for advice. 

“We were able to point out to him that although the regulations do allow for online purchases to have a 14-day cooling off period, the legislation does have some exemptions. These include sealed goods which have been unsealed after delivery and which are not suitable for return due to health protection or hygiene reasons. We advised him that we didn’t believe that the trader had to offer a return on the masturbation aid.” 

  •          Fingers in dog food

A UK lady bought some dog food from a German seller online. To her surprise, when she opened one of the cans, she found ‘human fingers’ inside. She contacted the UK ECC in order to report the matter. 

Andy said: “The case was an interesting one as the consumer simply wanted to report the matter. We informed our counterpart office in Germany so that they could make contact with the local authorities to

make a formal report. 

“The other issue was that, understandably, the consumer did not want to store the offending items in her own fridge, but realised that the fingers could be important evidence. One of our consumer advisors therefore got in touch with the lady’s local environmental health team so that they could store the case in case it was required for tests.

 “This is an important illustration of how the UK European Consumer Centre collaborates with enforcement agencies both in the UK and elsewhere in the EU. Enforcement authorities in Europe play an important role in ensuring consumers’ rights, both at national and cross-border levels.” 

  •          Ghost-hunting

A UK man bought a ghost-hunting device for £150 from a Bulgarian trader, but when the ‘multi-meter specifically for paranormal investigations’ was delivered it was found to be faulty. The consumer complained to the trader and received a replacement but said that this didn’t work properly either. The UK ECC gave the consumer tailored advice on the sale of goods in Europe so that he had the correct legal arguments when approaching the trader. 

  •          Flowers

There was a UK lady who ordered some flowers online to be delivered from a Maltese trader. But the flowers never arrived. After the UK ECC’s involvement, the consumer received a full 34 Euro refund. 

Andy said: “One of the common complaints about online shopping is non-delivery of goods ordered. When you place an order, you are normally given an indication of when the item will be received. The Consumer Contracts Regulations which came into force in June 2014 say that goods should be delivered within 30 days, unless a fixed delivery date is agreed. So if it takes longer than 30 days for the goods to be delivered, the trader could find their contract cancelled and a refund needs to be issued within 30 days. We were happy that there was a successful resolution to this case.” 

The UK ECC service, which has its UK base in Essex, is free for consumers and is co-funded by the European Commission and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The UK ECC is delivered by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute.


Notes to Editors: 

For further information please contact UK European Consumer Centre’s press office on 01268 582206. 

The UK European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net). There are 30 centres in the EU, plus Iceland and Norway. The aim of the network is to provide advice and support to consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in a European country outside the UK. The Network will assist consumers in the attempt to resolve the complaint. 

UK ECC can provide advice in the following main areas: buying goods and services, online shopping, internet auctions, holidays, timeshare and holiday clubs, air travel. 

UK ECC is co-funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and the European Commission. 

The UK ECC service is delivered by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute. 

The UK ECC provides advice and support to consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in a European country outside the UK and will assist consumers in the attempt to resolve the complaint. 

  •          Consumers can make contact with the UK European Consumer Centre via the website – www.ukecc.net – or by phone on 01268 886690 weekdays between 9am and 5pm. 
  •          If in doubt before you buy, contact our sister organisation – the European Consumer Centre for Services – for  pre-purchasing advice: www.ukecc-services.net


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