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Claiming a remedy through the CCT

From time to time consumers encounter problems with the products or services purchased. Thankfully, most of these problems are resolved after speaking with the seller or service provider. However, some disputes are not easily solved and consumers may need help when dealing with sellers.

Such help is provided to consumers through the Office for Consumer Affairs, where they can lodge a complaint. A complaints officer will then intervene on their behalf and speak to the trader hoping to reach an amicable solution that meets the consumer’s request for compensation or remedy.

Unfortunately, this conciliation process is not always successful. At this point, consumers may opt to take their claim before the Consumer Claims Tribunal (CCT), which is usually the final step for consumers to obtain redress.

Only consumers may take a claim before the CCT; the claim should be about goods or services bought or hired from a trader and used by the consumer for their own personal needs.

However, the CCT may also hear and decide about any counter-claims by a trader if the consumer makes a claim against the same trader before the tribunal. Cases commenced before a court and which by agreement between the two parties, are referred to the Consumer Claims Tribunal, may also be heard. The maximum amount of compensation this tribunal may award is €3,500. Hence, claims exceeding this amount will need to be taken to the Civil Court. Up to €500 compensation for moral damages may also be awarded by this tribunal.

The fees to lodge a claim vary according to the value being claimed and do not exceed €25.50. In fact, one of the main advantages of this tribunal is that it  does not cost consumers too much money.

The parties involved in the claim do not need to hire a lawyer to represent them. If they opt to engage a lawyer, they have to pay the legal expenses even if their claim is won.

Once a claim is submitted before the tribunal, the trader is informed about it and has the possibility to make a counter-claim. At this point, the two parties have another possibility to reach an amicable agreement and hence avoid proceedings. If no agreement is reached, then the tribunal’s secretary will appoint a date and time for the hearing before an arbiter. Both parties must attend the hearing, as failure to do so may result in losing the case.

It is also important for traders and consumers to be well prepared for the hearing as they will be asked to state the facts of the case under oath. It is also important to take all the documentation related to the case. Witnesses could also be summoned during these sittings. Should a witness refuse to attend, and the tribunal deems the evidence important, it may issue a “summons to witness”, ordering the witness to attend.

After the hearing both parties will receive the arbiter’s decision. The losing party has 20 days to appeal against the decision. In cases where the amount of the claim in dispute is below €1,200, the appeal may be made on any matter regarding the jurisdiction of the tribunal and on any question related to prescription.

An appeal can also be made in those cases where the arbiter has acted contrary to the rules of natural justice and as a result seriously prejudiced the outcome of the case. When the claim exceeds €1,200, it is possible to appeal on all grounds.

After the 20 days elapse, the consumer can contact the trader and request the compensation according to the tribunal’s decision. If the trader ignores or refuses the consumer’s requests, the latter may engage a lawyer and resort to court if necessary.

The Office for Consumer Affairs follows up on the tribunal’s decisions and may issue a public warning statement against those traders who do not abide by the CCT decisions.

Odette Vella is director, Information Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

odette.vella@mccaa.org.mt

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