In Poland there are 371 consumer ombudsmen at the moment. The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection summed up their work in 2016. Ombudsmen advised consumers on 494 878 occasions, issuing notifications to various undertakings on behalf of consumers in 67 701 cases and filed or prepared 4027 statements of claim.
“These figures show how high the demand for the services provided by consumer ombudsmen remains in Poland today. The UOKiK recognises their efforts, which translate directly into the well-being of our citizens. However, there are significant discrepancies in terms of their activities between individual districts. How is it possible that in one medium-sized province capital, the consumer ombudsmen gave advice to consumers on 348 occasions in a single year, whereas in another, similar city that figure was as much as 8565? Consumers from all across the country must enjoy the same, high degree of protection”, stresses Marek Niechciał, President of UOKiK.
In 2016, consumers asked ombudsmen to provide assistance in 206 584 cases related to service suppliers. Most complaints pertained to telecom companies (54 646), utilities suppliers (such as gas or electricity suppliers – 27 472), financial services (20 177), insurance services (16 077), debt recovery services (12 280) as well as renovation and construction services (11 892). The number of counselling sessions held with respect to services was lower than in 2015 (210 115), although still much higher than in 2011 (181 664). The only sector where the number of complaints saw an increase were insurance services (16 077 compared to 14 915 in the preceding year).
A substantial number of complaints were related to aggressive sales tactics. Consumers reported that various sales representatives would pose as representatives of current suppliers of telecommunications services or utilities, failed to inform consumers of the presence of additional fees, failed to present the full list of terms and conditions applicable to promotional offers or failed to provide the consumers with copies of the contracts. Customers also reported difficulties in contract cancellation, incorrect calculation of fees and charges, imposition of various contractual penalties as well as being offered bundled contracts (such as an electricity supply contract bound together with a healthcare service package). There was also a significant number of complaints pertaining to consumer loans and various sophisticated financial products such as unit-linked insurance policies, as well as complaints pertaining to the failure to provide reliable information, for example about exchange rate risks. In 2016, the municipal consumer ombudsman in Warsaw filed a class action against mBank on behalf of 867 consumers who wanted their mortgage loan contracts indexed to the Swiss franc to be declared invalid.
In 2016, consumer ombudsmen provided consumers with support in 4027 court cases by filing actions or preparing statements of claim on their behalf. However, such actions were performed less frequently than in the previous years.