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.
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 and its subsidiary legislation.
The Directorate ensures, amongst others:
the imparting of clear, unambiguous and correct information regarding the prices of goods sold or offered for sale to consumers;
the clear display of price lists in bars and kiosks;
the protection of consumers when effecting an online or off premises purchase including the clear indication of pre-contractual information and the right of withdrawal;
clear and fair adverts that do not contain misleading information.
Furthermore the Directorate is also responsible for the prohibition of discriminatory requirements in terms of nationality and place of residence, and the right of information and assistance, as per articles 9(a) and 10(1) of the Services (Internal Market) Act. The Guidance for Service Providers on Article 9(a) of the Services (Internal Market) Act (Chapter 500) prepared by the Office for Consumer Affairs can be accessed through the following link:Guidance Document.
The Enforcement Directorate continually works on enforcement measures and adopts a procedure that includes preliminary, without prejudice, meetings and/or without prejudice letters to promote voluntary compliancy 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.
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 of goods offered. If a retail outlet is found in breach of these regulation necessary action is taken accordingly.
Monitoring of adverts
Adverts from different business sectors are continuously monitored to ascertain that they are not misleading to the consumer.
The Directorate monitors the prices of fast-moving items on a monthly basis. Monitoring is conducted in a number of supermarkets, corner shops, butchers, alcohol outlets and fish mongers. This exercise enables the Directorate to gain information on price fluctuations on a month-to-month basis.
Fruit and vegetable prices are also monitored on a monthly. 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 of 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.
Officers from the Enforcement Directorate undertake inspections during the January and summer 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 are found defective.
In the summer season, retail outlets selling and/or renting equipment related to water sports, as well as beach kiosks and village feast kiosks, are inspected to ensure that adequate price indication is in place.
Consumer prices of medicines
The Office for Consumer Affairs strives to ensure fair and affordable prices of medicines for consumers. Prices of pharmaceutical products in several countries are used to derive a benchmark for comparison with domestic prices. Downward price realignment is then triggered where necessary. Market surveillance officers from the Enforcement Directorate provide support during the data-acquisition stage and the verification stage of the exercise.
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 (CPC)
The aim of this network is to tackle cross-border infringements in the Internal Market and lays down the framework and general conditions under which enforcement authorities in 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 accordingly follows up registered information and enforcement requests. Furthermore, the Directorate fully participates in the CPC joint activities and actions, including the annual EU Sweeps. A Sweep is an EU-wide screening of websites conducted in a form of simultaneous, coordinated checks to identify breaches of consumer law and to subsequently ensure its enforcement.
Consumer-protection enforcement is an evolving process and the continuous growth of e-commerce is leading to ever-increasing challenges in ensuring that consumers are well protected and informed. In view of this, in May 2016 the Commission put forward a proposal for the reform of the CPC Regulation, the scope being of addressing the need to better enforce EU consumer law, especially in the fast evolving digital sphere.