Consumer Protection

When I first came to Romania there was very little to purchase in the shops.  Goods were in short supply and often of poor quality. There were very few imports. Shops would display articles and then refuse to sell them to you, as they would then have nothing else to display. This actually happened to me and the article was a kettle.  Things have changed since those early days.

Certain Romanian business men were aware of this and bought in goods which we sold in markets or the streets and they used this as a foundation for their business. Some were very successful and went on to develop substantial well-known companies. In those days there was very little protection for the consumer, although the government did bring in legislation in 1991. This legislation was used as a basis for consumer protection but was not often used by consumers. It did form on the face of it the basis of some legal protection.

In those early days if you bought a product and it broke or failed there was little or no real redress. The cost and time involved far outweighed the value of the complaint. There was no-one to complain to. This has changed over the last few years, especially since Romania joined the European Union.

Romania has now an authority for Consumer affairs to which an unhappy customer can complain. The result of a complaint will be that the Agency carry out a review and if the offense is proven and considered serious enough the Agency will take action. The agency is not noted though for its efficiency.

More importantly Romania has now incorporated into local law a number of EU directives on consumer protection which impose a liability on the suppliers of goods and services. We need to distinguish before we go any further whether the goods were supplied from a shop or were purchased over the internet and therefore classified as distance purchases. In this article we are talking about buying from a shop and not off the internet.

In all cases of complaints for defective goods it should be borne in mind that the liable person has to be a company and not an individual. This means that companies need to protect themselves against claims. Most retailers may consider the risk minimal and see it as an occupational hazard. Some companies already realize the risks and advise their clients to take out separate insurance but this does not negate the retailer’s liability.

As the population becomes more aware of their rights the probability is that claims in court will increase and larger amounts will be awarded as damages. If this is the case it will become a greater risk for retailers and this risk will then have to be managed in the business. Part of this risk management is the purchase of insurance and all retailing companies should consider this.

Romania with an emerging middle class is becoming a society in which the individual has begun to question their rights. We therefore advice companies that where there is a risk that in future there could be a complaint then the client should look at the possibility of purchasing insurance. This does not negate the requirement that the management of these companies even now ensures that non defective good are offered for sale.

Fortunately, the question of class actions does not yet arise in Romania so the cost of purchasing insurance is low. As time progresses this risk will develop as the consumer becomes more vocal and people understand that they have rights which can be enforced.

About Nicholas S Hammond

Nicholas is an English solicitor who has been practising in Romania since 1990. He has been a partner in a number of law firms in Romania as the principal partner. Hammond and Associates trading as Hammond Partnership is the culmination of many years experiance.

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