Office for Consumer Affairs

Enforcement

Aim and Objectives

The Enforcement Directorate focuses on public enforcement of consumer rights by:

  • investigating unfair trading practices and unfair contract terms;
  • ensuring price transparency and compliance with other information requirements; and
  • ensuring observance of consumer-related legislation falling within the jurisdiction of the Office for Consumer Affairs.

General Information

The Enforcement Directorate is one of the three Directorates operating within the Office for Consumer Affairs as established by the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority Act.. Our aim is to enforce consumer-related laws namely the Consumer Affairs Act, the Trade Descriptions Act and the Doorsteps Act.

Through subsidiary legislation the Directorate also ensures:

  • the price indication of all produces offered for sale;
  • the clear display of price lists in bars and kiosks;
  • the protection of consumers when effecting a distance purchase including prior information, written confirmation of the information and the right of cancellation;
  • the imparting of clear, unambiguous and correct information regarding the prices of goods sold or offered for sale to consumers;
  • the regulated doorstep-selling;
  • clear and fair adverts that do not contain misleading information.

Furthermore the Directorate is also responsible for the prohibition of discriminatory pricing (in terms of nationality, place or residence), the right of information and assistance and the implementation of the Services (Internal Market) Act.

 

Price Indication

The Price Indication Regulations clearly state that:

“Consumers have the right to receive adequate, correct and unambiguous information regarding the price of goods sold or offered for sale to them, and to be able to make informed decisions on the basis of simple comparison.”

The Enforcement Directorate is responsible for the enforcement of these regulations and frequent inspections are carried out to ensure that the prices of goods available to the consumers are clearly legible, unambiguous, easily identifiable and inclusive of VAT and any additional taxes and charges. As a rule of thumb, consumers should not feel the need to ask for assistance in order to get to know the prices goods or services offered. If a retail outlet is found in breach of these regulations, meetings are held with the owner and action can be taken without prejudice, according to law.

  • Price indication on alternative energy systems

From time to time support schemes relating to alternative-energy solutions are launched by the Malta Resources Authority. The Enforcement Directorate carries out price-indication monitoring every two months to ascertain that schemes on offer are not abused of by traders selling such products. These inspections are undertaken to ensure that the price displayed and advertised does not include the subsidy given by the Government. Such subsidy should be indicated separately. Adherance to changes in the regulations of existing support schemes or the introduction of new schemes is also monitored by the Directorate.

  • Seasonality inspections

The Enforcement Directorate carries out price indication inspections during the sales season in shops selling specific products such as perfumeries and jewellery.

Particularly during the summer season, retail outlets selling and/or renting equipment related to water sports are inspected for discriminatory pricing.

  • Bakers’ price and weight indication exercises

A periodic exercise is undertaken in bakeries throughout Malta and Gozo to ensure that correct weights and prices of diverse bakery products are displayed.

  • Price Indication on second hand cars - Notice to Car Dealers 

The attention of second hand car dealers is drawn to the provisions of the Consumer Affairs Act (Price Indication) Regulations (S.L. 378.09) as well as to the provisions contained in Articles 51A to 51J of the Consumer Affairs Act (Cap. 378) as the relevant legislation emanating from EU Directives, with regard to price indication and information requirements to be made available by traders to consumers.

The Consumer Affairs Act (Price Indication) Regulations legally oblige traders who offer goods for sale on a retail basis, to indicate the prices in an unambiguous, easily identifiable and clearly legible manner.

Articles 51A to 51J of the Consumer Affairs Act constitute the transposition to Maltese legislation of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. This specifically makes it an unfair commercial practice to omit material information including the price of the product.  

Car dealers are being informed that failure on your part to comply with the above-mentioned legal provisions will result in the applicable enforcement action according to the Consumer Affairs Act and of the regulations made there under.

 

  • Monitoring of adverts

Adverts from different business sectors are continuously monitored to ascertain that they are in no way misleading to the consumer. Special sweeps on advertisement in specific markets - a number of which in collaboration with other EU Member States - are conducted from time to time.

 

Price Monitoring

Since 2007, the Directorate has been monitoring prices of fast-moving items on a monthly basis. Monitoring is conducted in a number of supermarkets, corner shops, butchers, restaurants and kiosks (the latter depending on seasonality). This exercise enables the Directorate to gain information on price fluctuations on month-to-month basis. Special price-monitoring inspection are also conducted in a number of sectors:

  • Fruit and vegetable prices

Fruit and vegetable prices are monitored on a weekly basis. The Enforcement Directorate collects price-data from an established basket of fruits and vegetables from various outlets including hawkers, green grocers and supermarkets.

  • Prices of white goods at the annual Malta International Trade Fair

Between March and July of each year, the Directorate carries out fortnightly price monitoring exercises on a number outlets selling white goods to check whether the trade-fair discounts offered to consumers are in fact genuine. Action is taken immediately against traders who illegally boost up pre-discount prices in order to mislead the consumer with a false impression of huge discounts.

  • Inspections during the sales season

Officers from the Enforcement Directorate undertake inspections during the January sales to ensure that the price displayed during the sales is in effect the discounted price. The inspectors also make sure that prices are clear without the need for the consumer to work out the discount himself. The Directorate also ensures that the consumer still has the right to change the product or ask for a refund if the products is found defective.

  • Consumer prices of medicines

The Enforcement Directorate is carrying out an exercise to verify whether the prices of medicines are fair and reasonable. This is carried in terms of the provisions of the agreement reached between the stakeholders of the Working Committee on the Pricing of Medicinal Products. A reference European price is derived from a basket of 12 countries classified in three pricing categories - high, medium, and low. The Directorate endeavours to ensure that medicine prices are in line with the reference price unless justifiable reasons dictate otherwise.

The following are lists of medicines decreased in price on the respective dates:

January 2013 up-to-date list of medicine price-reductions

For more information regarding the prices of medicines please contact us on telephone number 21446446 (from Monday to Friday between 8.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m.) or send us an email on medicines@gov.mt

 

Other On-going Initiatives

  • Issue of public warning statements

Further to investigations and administrative proceedings by the Enforcement Directorate, the Director General of the Office for Consumer Affairs issues public warning statements on traders who fail to comply.

  • Participation in the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network

The aim of this network is to tackle the ever-increasing cross-border problems in the Internal Market and lays down the framework and general conditions under which authorities, responsible for enforcement in the Member States, are to cooperate. In support of this network, the Consumer Protection Cooperation System (CPCS) was established with the aim of improving EU cooperation in the field of consumer-protection enforcement. The Enforcement Directorate is responsible for the functioning of the CPCS and immediately follows up registered information and enforcement requests.

 

Continuous Development

Consumer-protection enforcement is an evolving process. The continuous growth of e-commerce is leading to ever-increasing challenges in ensuring that consumers are well protected and informed. Our staff is continuously being trained through specialised courses and exchanges of officials from other European consumer affairs authorities. We are also actively taking part in EU common activities on consumer protection.

 

The Way Forward

The Enforcement Directorate is continually working on enforcement measures and is presently adopting a procedure that includes preliminary, without prejudice, meetings and/or without prejudice letters to promote voluntary compliance and minimise the need to take administrative action or criminal proceedings, as the case may be.

The aim of such a procedure is to ensure that dialogue, information and guidance are the primary mainstays of effective enforcement. The procedure also aims to strike the right balance between traders and consumers.

Most crucially, traders should be prepared to provide a valid and effective remedy not only to avert enforcement action but to actually ensure that the rights of consumers are safeguarded whenever there is a breach of the law.