Customer protection in Bulgaria is a new concept, but in many cases it works – if you know your rights
"I bought a pair of winter shoes, they seemed stable. After two weeks the sole of one of them came off“ a friend of mine complained. "They were under warranty. I exchanged them for another pair at the shop. Two weeks later the sole came off again. I returned the second pair too and they offered me a third one. I didn't want it. It seemed that the whole lot was defective. I wanted a refund. But they refused."
During the past few years customer protection culture in Bulgaria has improved – perhaps owing to the accession to the EU. But it is still possible to be refused compensation for expired cheese or for being sent to a hotel hardly worth of two stars by a tour operator promising at least four.
Bulgarians and foreigners in the country have equal rights as customers. The Bulgarian Customer Protection Act gives you the chance to return defective goods up to two years after their purchase. With services, the deadline for filing a complaint is 14 days, the Customer Protection Commission, a governmental institution which controls the safety of nonfood goods and services, told Vagabond. The safety of food, cosmetics and medicines is the responsibility of the Health Ministry.
It is wise to check the warranty which the vendor gives you for the purchased goods, the commission advised. If you want to exercise your rights as a customer you have to keep the invoice and present it to the vendor. You should insist your complaint be filed in a special registry – every vendor is obliged to keep one.
If the vendor refuses to cooperate, turn to the commission at email@example.com, phone 0700 111 22 (national number). At the site of the commission, www.kzp.bg, you will find the full list of dangerous goods since 2007.
In 2010, 10,000 complaints were filed with the commission. Most of them were for mobile phones and communication technology (28 percent), electric appliances (16 percent) and audio and video technology and shoes (6 percent each). In the area of services, most complaints were against cable TV and Internet providers.
The commission can fine vendors who do not observe their obligations according to the Customer Protection Act. Its chairman can order dangerous goods to be destroyed.
If the use of defective goods causes death or permanent disability, or the destruction of property worth more than 1,000 leva, the customer can sue the manufacturer. But the customer will have to prove in court the damage, the defects of the goods and the cause-effect relationship between the two.
The 24 arbitration commissions set up by the Economy Ministry are supposed to facilitate extra-judicial settlement of disputes between customers and vendors. Their services are free of charge and settlements are usually faster than court cases. If you turn to an arbitration commission you can still sue in court.
The customers' associations are another way to protect your rights.
The law gives you an opportunity for a collective claim. You can do that when you have suffered losses in cases like mail orders, organised group trips, advertising (including advertising of medicines), e-commerce, loans and financial services from a distance. If you don't have time or potential to deal with this, you can authorise some of these associations to file a collective claim on your behalf.
With the support of the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe and Open Society Institute – Sofia