Big businesses need larger fines for consumer protection breaches, watchdog says

Ireland’s consumer watchdog has said the level of penalties that big businesses face for breaches of consumer protection is not high enough to deter bad behaviour and changes to the laws are needed.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) on Thursday said it has issued a warning to pub owners to display price information for the benefit of consumers or face penalties. In a letter to the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland and the Licensed Vintners Association this week, the watchdog said consumers must be able to compare prices in the hospitality sector, “particularly in light of rising prices.”

Pub owners are required to post an up-to-date list of drink prices at the door and full price lists indoors everywhere drinks are sold.

The fixed penalty for a breach of the 1999 order is set by law at €300. Offenders may also be served with a compliance notice, which can be appealed in the District Court within 14 days.

Some 13 fixed penalty notices were issued to nine traders in Dublin and Kildare last year for breaches of the Retail Price (Beverages in Licensed Premises) Display Order, the CCPC said. The list of offenders includes Fitzsimons Temple Bar in Dublin 2, Davy Byrnes on Duke Street, Dublin 2 and the Landsdowne Bar at Terminal 1 in Dublin Airport.

However, a spokeswoman for the CCPC said, the penalties are not high enough to stop larger businesses from breaching consumer protection laws in general.

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“The level of fines that can be issued for breaches of consumer protection law is not a deterrent for large businesses,” she said. “Changes to the law are needed to give the CCPC the power to impose large fines for serious offences – for example, fines that are a percentage of a business’s turnover. This is a priority for the CCPC.”

The penalties large businesses face for consumer protection failings was brought into focus in recent weeks after Eir pleaded guilty in Dublin District Court to multiple breaches of the law over its failure to acknowledge complaints from customers among other issues on foot of an investigation by ComReg. The telecoms company was fined €750 for each of 10 such breaches before the courts.

Judge Anthony Halpin branded the company a “disgrace” after a passage in the company’s training manual, warning staff that “under no circumstances are the complaints number or complaints webpage address to be provided to any customer”.


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