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Consumer associations are responsible for advising and assisting consumers in settling everyday disputes, either amicably or through legal action. They can also act as a preventive measure, for example by calling for the removal of unfair terms in contracts. They represent the interests of consumers in national, regional and departmental bodies.
An approved consumers' association may provide legal advice exclusively:
- its members,
- and on consumer issues related to its object.
Defense of individual interests
An approved national association may seek compensation for damage suffered by several consumers where such damage is caused by the same trader and has a common origin.
The association must be mandated by at least 2 consumers concerned.
Defense of collective interests
National approved associations may constitute itself civil where facts cause direct or indirect harm to the collective interest of consumers.
They can thus ask the judge to order a professional, possibly under periodic penalty payments:
- cease unlawful acts,
- or to remove an unlawful clause in the model contract that it offers to consumers or in any contract that is being executed.
They may also ask the judge:
- an abusive clause is declared deemed written in all identical contracts in progress concluded by the trader with consumers (in practice, this clause will be deprived of any binding effect, the trader will no longer have to apply it),
- and order the trader to inform the consumers concerned at his own expense by all means.
An approved national association may conduct a group action..
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It can thus refer the matter to the judge for compensation for the individual damage suffered by a group of consumers:
- in a similar situation,
- and having common cause, a failure by one or the same professionals to fulfill their legal or contractual obligations.
Group action by a consumer association is possible:
- under a contract for the sale of goods or the provision of services,
- or where the harm is caused by anti-competitive practices.
Group action may only be taken in respect of compensation for damage to property resulting from material damage suffered by consumers.
Approval may be granted to any consumer association:
- which justifies at the date of application for approval a year of existence,
- which, during that year, justifies an effective and public activity in defense of the interests of consumers (assessed in particular by reference to the production and dissemination of publications, the holding of information meetings and the holding of hotlines),
- which, at the time of application for approval, includes at least 10 000 members who are contributors to a national association or, in the light of the territorial framework of its activity, sufficient members who are contributors to a local, departmental or regional association.
The approval of a national association is granted by ministerial order.
The approval of a local, departmental or regional association is granted by order of the prefect of the department in which the association has its head office.
Approval is granted for 5 renewable years.
The application for approval and renewal is to be sent to the directorate responsible for the protection of the populations of the head office of the association.
The decision to approve or refuse shall be notified within 6 months of the issue of the acknowledgement of receipt. Reasons shall be given for decisions to refuse.