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(In December 2005 Europe Economics was commissioned by DG SANCO to analyse the issue of consumer detriment. Their final report was published as a titled, “An analysis of the issue of consumer detriment and the most appropriate methodologies to estimate it”. The definition of Consumer Detriment used by NCH has been derived from this paper. )

Definitions of the European Commission:
“Consumer Detriment”

The DG SANCO report suggests two definitions of consumer detriment:

(a) “A concept of consumer detriment, which focuses on negative outcomes for consumers, relative to some benchmark such as expectations or reasonable expectations...personal detriment to reflect the fact that it relates to the personal experience of those consumers for whom something goes wrong, rather than to consumers in aggregate. The label also captures the idea that some aspects of this type of detriment (e.g. the extent of any negative psychological impact) will depend on the psychology of the person concerned.

(b) An economics-based concept of consumer detriment, which focuses on the loss consumer welfare due to market failure or regulatory failure… structural detriment, to reflect the fact that it arises from a structural problem arising from a market failure or a regulation…this type of detriment arises from a structural feature which potentially applies across an entire market or sector is that its impact is likely to be felt by the generality of consumers purchasing the relevant goods or services.”

Which type of consumer detriment should be analysed?

Personal detriment is particularly relevant when assessing consumer protection rules, since these seek to provide individual consumers with protection against negative outcomes. For instance, NCH councellors should consider impacts on personal detriment when assessing policies which deal with matters such as the following:

(a) Scams and fraud;
(b) Misleading advertising;
(c) Unfair marketing practices;
(d) Unfair contract terms;
(e) Sales of unsafe products;
(f) Sellers providing inadequate redress in response
to complaints.

Structural detriment is relevant to all policies which have an impact on consumers, given that it relates to the overall impact on consumers in aggregate. This includes consumer protection rules, and hence for some policies NCH councellors may need to assess impacts on both personal and structural detriment.

Analysing personal consumer detriment:

Personal detriment can comprise both financial and non-financial detriment (see table), therefore both a quantitative and qualitative assessment is possible. NCH councellors should aim at translating the quantifiable impacts in monetary terms. In some cases when consumers suffer problems, they will obtain redress from their supplier (e.g. a replacement product, refund or compensation). This may partly or wholly offset the detriment that they have suffered. The redress has to be considered during the assessment of personal detriment. This enables identification both of the problems which consumers suffered in the first place, and the extent to which they were able to obtain redress under the existing legal framework.

Consumer Detriment at National Consumer Helpline:

As National Consumer Helpline deals with Consumer Complaints on a daily basis, Consumer Detriment is a closely related concept to our organisation. The consumers who approach us are mostly aggrieved consumers who have experienced detriment and therefore, using the data derived from the callers, we can estimate the detriment experienced by them.

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