* COVID-19 - Inflated Prices
As part of its consumer protection responsibilities the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is monitoring the prices of certain goods for which there has been an elevated demand since the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis. The OFT is seeking to avoid traders profiteering from the lack of supply to meet the increased demands to the detriment of consumers who may be vulnerable, and therefore willing, to pay unreasonably inflated prices (see more information).
In order to allow a comprehensive assessment of the situation the OFT would welcome information from the public about any traders who, in their view, are abusing the current crisis. They can do so by e-mailing the OFT’s Consumer Protection Team (firstname.lastname@example.org ) or by calling the OFT (200 71700).
For specific COVID-19 news and Guidance please see our News section*
The responsibilities of the previous Department of Consumer Affairs are now undertaken by the Consumer Protection team of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
The Consumer Protection team's aim is to ensure that locals and visiting consumers' rights are respected and that they are able to engage with local businesses with confidence. In addition the team also focuses on ensuring a level playing field between businesses in Gibraltar. The Consumer Protection’ team of the Office of Fair Trading seeks to achieve these objectives by fulfilling its responsibilities as set out by the Fair Trading Act 2015 (FTA).
The Consumer Protection team has the following responsibilities under the FTA:
Education: Raising consumer and trader awareness on their rights and responsibilities via awareness campaigns, seminars, presentations and publications on different topics of consumer concern;
Guidance: Guiding consumers and traders with regard to their rights and responsibilities based on the enquiries or complaints brought to us (for more information see below);
Investigation: Investigating matters which could be causing harm to our local consumers (for more information see below);
Product Safety: Monitoring and testing products in our market to ensure their conformity with European Standards;
Advertisements: Monitoring adverts to ensure they are accurate and complying with the Misleading and Comparative Advertising Act;
Inspections: Ensuring shop notices are in conformity with consumer rights, prices are displayed, businesses licenses are up to date and that measuring and weighing equipment are calibrated;
Enforcement: Undertaking enforcement measures against businesses causing consumer detriment and monitoring that these measures are being adhered to (for more information see below); and
Legislation: Monitor changes in the UK and European consumer landscape and issuing recommendations for changes to our local legislation to try and maintain equal standards of consumer protection in Gibraltar.
How to make a complaint against a business?
To make a complaint against a business please contact us:
- by e-mail: email@example.com stating the name of the business and providing details of the practices being complained about;
- on the phone: 200 71700; and/or
- by coming to our offices at Suite 975 Europort, Europort Road.
We will take complaints against businesses that could, through their business practices, be potentially be causing consumer harm. Please note however that the team cannot process complaints raised by businesses against other businesses as businesses do not fall within the definition of "consumer" for the purposes of the Fair Trading Act 2015. If however a business raise a complaint against another business, and that complaint is in relation to business practices which may be causing harm to consumers generally or in relation to businesses operating without a valid business licence, then the team will be able to process the complaint.
If as a consumer you directly affected by the actions of a business, we will usually ask that you try and address the situation directly with the business first (if you haven’t done so already) in order to allow the business the opportunity to act in accordance with their obligations to you. If you are uncertain of what your consumer rights are in a particular situation we will advise you on what these should be, based on the account that you give us. When contacting a business with a complaint we recommend that you try and maintain as calm as possible in order not to sever relationships, as this will help to achieve the best possible outcomes for you.
How we can help
If you are unable to resolve the matter amicably with the business and we identify that the business could be engaging in practices which are detrimental to the collective interests of consumers in Gibraltar, we will proceed to contact the business ourselves. If we determine that the business is causing consumer harm in any way, we will try and assist the business into compliance and seek an undertaking from them that they will cease the detrimental practice. Please note however that the OFT is not empowered to achieve any redress for a complainant. Businesses often offer redress to complainants after our team's intervention, however this is not something we may assist with.
If a Business fails to adequately refrain from causing consumer harm the OFT may make a reference to the OFT Commission who may issue the business with appropriate Enforcement Order.
Consumer Protection Enforcers (CPE)
The main role of the CPEs is the protection of consumer interests and to ensure that all businesses comply with this legislation. CPEs will visit local traders to review their business practices, inspect weighing and measuring equipment used for trade and check business licences to ensure they are in place and up to date.
They will also monitor and check advertisements for accuracy, inspect and test goods for safety, ensure that no person is selling goods to consumers without a business licence and investigate matters and behaviour of business practices in Gibraltar that the Office of Fair Trading consider to be significantly harming consumers in Gibraltar.
The CP Enforcers’ powers include investigatory powers, the ability to enter into business premises with a warrant and the retention of documents.
The OFT Commission
The Commission is the quasi-judicial body of the Office of Fair Trading. If as a result of complaints received by the OFT or as a result of its own investigations there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that any feature, or combination of features, of a market in Gibraltar for goods or services is or appears to be significantly harming consumer interests the OFT may make a reference to the Commission.
Where, following a reference and any subsequent investigation carried out by the Commission, the Commission finds that the person named in the Reference has engaged in conduct which significantly harms consumer interests, the Commission may make an enforcement order against that person. The order would require the person to cease that conduct and may also require the person to issue a corrective statement or to provide proof of compliance. Compliance with an enforcement order shall be enforceable by civil proceedings.
The Consumer Protection team monitors Enforcement Orders and Undertakings issued by the OFT Commission and informs them if we find they are not being adhered to. In such cases, the Commission can apply to the courts for any applicable measures against the trader
Your rights under the Sale of Goods Act
When you buy goods from a trader the law says they must:
- Match their description. This means that they must be as described by the seller. This includes any description on the packaging. In most circumstances, it also means that they must conform to any advertising claims made about them;
- Be of satisfactory quality. This means that the product should meet the standards that any reasonable person would expect. This includes the appearance and finish of the goods, their safety and durability and whether they are free from defects, including minor faults.
- Be fit for the purpose bought. This means that the goods must be fit for the purpose they are generally intended for and any other use that the trader has advised you of.
You have the same rights when you buy goods in a sale. When you buy second-hand goods, the above conditions still apply but you will also need to take into account the age of the goods and the price you paid.
You will not be able to take action against the seller if:
- You examined the goods before you bought them and the fault was obvious;
- The seller pointed out the fault before you bought them (unless there are other faults and the goods are not as described);
- You have damaged or altered the goods or failed to care for them in line with any instructions; and/or
- You have used them for some time and the problem has been caused by normal wear and tear. However, goods not of satisfactory quality still have to match their description.
If you send goods back to the trader:
- Find out exactly why the trader wants to keep the goods and what will happen to them;
- Do not send the original receipt or other proof of purchase; and
- Take note that once you accept repair you may be forfeiting your rights to later reject that item.
If the trader takes goods back, they may, for example:
- Examine the goods;
- Send the goods away for a second opinion or testing; and/or
- Repair the goods or replace or refund.
Remember that goods sent for a second opinion or testing may be lost, damaged or destroyed in the process. This means that you have lost the proof that there was ever a fault. It is therefore advisable to obtain a receipt from the trader for any goods, which are handed back to them.
Refunds, Replacement and Repairs
Traders are generally only legally obliged to offer a full refund for a short period of time after the purchase if the goods do not conform to your rights under the Sale of Goods Act (see above).
Once you’ve had the goods for a longer period of time you may still be entitled to redress from the trader usually in the form of replacement or repair. However, if:
- it is impossible to replace or repair the goods;
- replacement or repair would be unreasonably costly for the seller;
- the seller fails to replace or repair the goods within a reasonable time, having agreed to do so; or
- causes you significant inconvenience,
then you can ask for a partial or full refund. The amount of the refund may be reduced to take account of any use that you have had out of the goods.
You do not have to accept a credit note if you are returning faulty goods, but you should be aware that in accepting a credit note, you will not normally be able to take any action for a refund. If you do accept a credit note, you should check whether it must be used within a certain time.
If the goods are covered by a guarantee, this may grant you additional rights. The guarantee cannot take away your statutory rights (those given to you by law). Traders may tell you that you should contact the manufacturer of the goods or the warranty company, to get satisfaction. However, you do not have to approach the manufacturer yourself and you do not have to claim under a warranty if the fault has developed within a reasonable amount of time after purchase.
In consumer law your contract is with the trader and not the manufacturer. You may wish to contact the manufacturer (especially if there is a guarantee), or a warranty company, if you think that you will get a more satisfactory outcome this way. However, the trader is strictly liable to the buyer i.e. obliged to deal with your complaint, even if you have nothing in writing that says so.
Goods bought from a private seller
If you buy from a private seller who was not selling the goods as a business, you do not have the same rights. The goods are sold as seen, so they may not be of good quality but they must match their description. If you saw the goods advertised, keep the advertisement as evidence.
Goods bought with a credit card
You have additional rights if you’ve used a UK based credit card provider and if the goods or services cost more than £100 but less than £30,000. You may be able to claim against the credit company as well as the trader.
This right only applies to consumers acting in a private capacity and not to credit provided for business purposes. Of course, the credit or card company will want reasonable proof that you have a problem.
Frequently asked questions
- Q. I have just bought something for a certain amount of money and have now seen it much cheaper elsewhere. Can I go back to the trader and ask that the price difference be refunded to me?
A. No. It is up to the consumer to shop around for the best deal.
- Q. I bought a gift for someone but it turns out that they already had one. Can I go back to the trader and ask for a refund?
A. Refunds need only be given if the product is not fit for the purpose, as described or free from defects. It is therefore a matter of company policy whether they give you a refund or not under the above circumstances. Always familiarise yourself with the shop’s policies before purchasing goods from them.
- Q. I saw an item in a shop for a certain price but when I went to pay for it, the cashier told me it was the wrong price and it was actually more expensive than what was indicated; surely they have to honour the price shown?
A. Goods put on display for consumers to purchase is referred to in law as an ‘invitation to treat,’ when you select the item and proceed to pay for them, you are making an offer on those goods to the shop, the shop may then either accept or reject your offer. Therefore, shops are not obliged to accept payment for goods at the prices indicated.
- Q. I bought something on sale, which has turned out to be faulty; can I return it to the shop?
A. You benefit from the same statutory rights when you purchase goods on sale as if they had been bought at the original price. However, if the goods were reduced because they were faulty and this fault was pointed out to you prior to the purchase, then you cannot ask for redress for the fault in question.
- Q. I returned some faulty merchandise and the trader offered me a credit note. I accepted it but there is nothing in the shop that I want. Can I ask for the credit note to be exchanged for cash?
A. You do not have to accept a credit note when returning faulty goods. The trader should either, repair, replace or refund. However, bear in mind that if you do accept a credit note, you cannot later ask for this to be exchanged for cash.
- Ensure that products bought, especially electronic goods and toys are EU compliant and certified.
- Familiarise yourself with the exchange/refund policies of the shops from which you are purchasing.
- Ensure that online purchases are made from trustworthy and secure websites.
- Find out the expiry date of any gift vouchers.
- Take note that any deposits placed on goods to be bought later are usually non-refundable, if you cancel the purchase.
- When placing orders to be delivered from a shop, catalogue or website, you can add ‘time of the essence’ to your contract with the supplier. This will allow you to ask for a refund if the goods are not delivered on time. In any event unless otherwise agreed, traders should deliver goods within 30 days.
- Always keep your purchase receipts or any other proof of purchase, in case you encounter problems with your purchase in the future.
- Ask about the guarantee offered with the product. Guarantees cannot affect your statutory rights.
Note that shops are NOT obliged to exchange or refund, unless the product is not:
- fit for the purpose bought;
- as described; and/or
- of satisfactory quality.
Internet shopping tips
With the increased use of the internet, shopping has become a global experience. But shopping on the Internet can bring its own problems;
Follow these tips for safer online shopping:
- Ensure you are dealing with a trustworthy and secure website before giving credit or debit card details. If the company does not have a secure site, your details may become available to others.
- Look for and click on the closed padlock sign at the bottom of the screen for information on the website’s security.
- Ideally, try to trade with well-known companies, or those that you have done business with before, or that have been recommended to you.
- Try to get an actual address and telephone number for a company, not just an email address.
- Shop around for the best deals and watch out for high postage rates and for hidden costs, such as duty payable, particularly when ordering from abroad.
- Remember, goods sent internationally may take longer to be delivered. Check with the trader and set a delivery date that you must have them by, if that is important to you. Traders from within the EU should deliver products within 30 days unless otherwise agreed.
- If buying from abroad, remember that problems like faulty goods or non-delivery may be very difficult to deal with. If returning goods you may face a hefty postage bill. EU traders should reimburse you for faulty goods and the postage and packaging costs within 14 days.
- Only buy very expensive items from outside the UK or Europe if you know the company to be trustworthy. This limits the risk if problems do arise.
- Under most circumstances, when buying from within the EU, you usually have 14 days (starting from the day after you receive the goods) in which to change your mind, about the product you’ve bought. The trader should inform you of this cancellation period which allows you to return un-used products to the trader.
- Most importantly, print out the order, and keep any terms and conditions that appear on the website, in case of any disputes later on.
Scams target people everywhere, from fake lotteries and prize draws to pyramid schemes, fake business directories, offers of riches by email, false advertisements, fake gift certificates, false websites and more. Scam artists work to mislead the consumer, contacting them by phone, email, post, face-to-face in the street or even at the front door.
Protect yourself from scams, be assertive and say “NO” to any offer, which puts you under pressure or where you may be unsure or fearful, especially when it all seems too good to be true. Say “NO”, even when you know and trust the person making the offer as plenty of innocent and well-meaning people have been duped into promoting scams that they are unaware they are participating in. You both stand to lose money and it could also damage your friendship.
Could you be the next target?
- Are you being asked to send money or ring a number before you receive an offer or prize?
- Do they sound pleasant, but are rushing you into making a decision and asking you not to tell anyone about the “great” deal?
- Do they ask you to give them your bank details, credit card number and other personal details?
- Do they give you a P.O. box number as their only address?
- Do they continue to talk about their offer even after you have said that you are not interested and make you feel that they will not take no for an answer?
- Do you repeatedly receive personalised emails promising free gifts, prizes or cheap prices from a company or address you have never heard of?
How to protect yourself
- Stop, think and be sceptical. Would a stranger give you something for nothing? Can you win a prize if you haven’t entered a draw? Remember, if it is a scam you may never get your money back.
- Don’t send money or give personal, credit card or bank details to anyone until you have checked them out thoroughly.
- Don’t rush into a decision; ask for time to think about the offer.
- Search the Internet for information about the company. Ask for detailed, written information and valid references to be shown or sent to you.
- Alternatively, search forums on the Internet to see what other people have said about the company.
- Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- If you detect a scam tell everyone you know and report it to us, or the Royal Gibraltar Police.
For more information on the consumer protection functions of the OFT please contact us:
T - 20071700
E - firstname.lastname@example.org
Below you will find a non-exhaustive list of consumer legislation: