In recent months, the Pancyprian Consumers Association has been inundated with consumer complaints, particularly following the reinstatement of excise duty on fuel and the termination of electricity subsidies. Virginia Christou, an officer at the Association, revealed that many of these cases are tied to the recent introduction of a zero VAT rate for seven categories of essential goods, which, in some instances, is not applied by certain businesses. Consumers are expressing daily grievances about the continuous surge in product and fuel prices. There are also reports that recent measures, such as extending the zero rate to sugar and coffee, are insufficient in curbing price increases and safeguarding consumer interests. In response, many are calling for the reinstatement of fuel subsidies and the expansion of the list of products subject to zero or reduced VAT.
The volume of complaints related to accuracy reached 215 by September 18th. This marks a substantial increase from the 89 complaints registered for the entire year of 2022, representing a rise of approximately 142%. Additionally, complaints related to energy, the Ministry of Energy Trade and Industry's sponsorship schemes, the AEC, and renewable energy saw a surge, reaching a total of 1,585. Among these complaints are issues like bureaucracy causing service delays, difficulties in completing electronic application forms for the Ministry's sponsorship scheme, and concerns regarding electricity charges following the termination of subsidies in May. Some consumers also reported discrepancies in EAC meter readings, which didn't align with their actual consumption. Fortunately, most of these issues were eventually resolved.
Another category of complaints has seen a 26% increase - those concerning the failure to indicate prices on product labels or shelves where items are sold.
Travel and online fraud
The Association has also noted significant increases in other types of complaints. Cases of online fraud have risen by 82%, with 88 complaints received by September 18th this year. Furthermore, email scams involving various businesses saw a 150% increase, with 45 complaints compared to 18 in all of 2022. There has also been a rise in grievances related to flight cancellations, boarding delays, and mishandling of baggage. Of the 161 complaints received up to September, 15 were linked to passengers' experiences on the Rome-Larnaca flight of Cyprus Airways on August 31st. These complaints have multiplied due to factors such as air traffic controller strikes, flight delays caused by a shortage of cabin and ground staff, and consequent mishandling of baggage in some instances. However, issues related to passenger rights fall under the purview of the European Consumer Centre and the Civil Aviation Department, responsible for implementing (EC) 261/2004 regarding passenger compensation and assistance.
No prices displayed on shelves
Another category of complaints has seen a 26% increase - those concerning the failure to indicate prices on product labels or shelves where items are sold. Complaints in this category rose from 165 last year to 208 by September 18th, 2023. Consumers have reported instances where the price displayed on the shelf differs from the final charge at the checkout. This issue has been increasingly prevalent in coastal tourist areas, particularly in August, with twenty cases reported, mainly in Paphos Harbour and Ayia Napa. These data indicate a pressing need for more rigorous inspections in these regions.
The reduction of unfair commercial practices
Despite the overall increase in complaints, there have been some positive developments. Instances of product warranty enforcement decreased from 339 last year to 237 by September 2023. Additionally, complaints related to unfair commercial practices reduced by 22%, from 98 last year to 76 this year. Complaints regarding food safety decreased by 30%, from 56 last year to 39 this year. There was also a slight reduction in complaints regarding unfair terms in consumer documents.
Regarding the e-kalathi, a topic making headlines once again, the Consumers' Association views it as a measure that may not directly alleviate inflation or accuracy issues but could foster healthy competition among businesses. This competition, in practice, could influence the market dynamics and potentially lead to gradual price reductions from competing businesses. However, there are isolated reservations about its effectiveness. As Ms. Christou explained, some consumers express concerns that not all consumers, particularly older individuals, may fully utilize this electronic tool.
[This article was translated from its Greek original]