DUBAI// More than 4,400 people contacted the Dubai Department of Economic Development in the first five months of this year to complain about a business or service.
Although high, the number of complaints is a sign that more consumers are becoming aware of their rights, say bosses, who received almost 8,800 calls in the whole of 2012.
"There has been a significant increase in the number of complaints received and the increase is mainly due to the continuous awareness campaigns being conducted for both retailers and consumers," said Omar Bushahab, chief executive of the Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection Sector, which deals with complaints at the Department of Economic Development (DED).
An extensive awareness campaign was launched by the DED in 2010 with notices placed at checkouts informing shoppers who to contact if they needed to complain.
"We have seen that the various campaigns aimed to spread consumer rights awareness across Dubai have resulted in better understanding of the duties and responsibilities of consumers as well as retailers," said Mr Bushabab.
Although the majority of complaints are genuine, some are less serious than others. However, consumer protection officials are committed to investigating every complaint they receive, said Mr Bushabab.
In 2011, the total number of complaints received was 6,902. That increased to 8,776 in 2012 with 4,460 complaints received up to May this year.
A number of campaigns are being launched by the DED during Ramadan.
"We organise various campaigns and maintain a strong vigil in the run-up to Ramadan and during the Holy Month to ensure that consumer rights are protected and cordial relations exist between retailers and consumers," he said.
"For example, inspectors have already toured all major markets in Dubai including the cattle market and the fruit and vegetable market to check the prices of essential goods.
"We have also distributed more than 5,000 display boards to list prices soconsumers are better-informed and protected from unjustified increases. We work with traders and buyers and take suggestions and complaints from both parties."
The DED is also working closely with the police as part of ongoing operations to target fake goods. "Wherever required, we obtain permission from the police before seizing suspected counterfeit or pirated goods," said Mr Bushabab.
"We also work with the police exchanging information and experiences with them and contributing effectively towards combating counterfeiting."
Under federal law, suppliers can face fines of between Dh1,000 and Dh1 million if they advertise damaged goods for sale or fail to add product information on packaging.
Consumers have the right to a refund or have a product exchanged if it is faulty or does not work as advertised.
However, some consumers feel more could be done. "We should have one single rule for everyone regarding refunds and exchanges," said Ismail Farooqi, from Canada.
"The problem at the moment is that different shops have different rules, so as a consumer you can't always get a refund or if you do you can only spend it in the shop.
"It would be better if we had one rule and that way everyone knows where they stand."
Mohammed Ashfaq, from India agreed, saying he stopped buying from some retailers due to their refund policies.
"I don't think it's fair that some shops force you to then spend money in their shop again if you ask for a refund. It's like trapping you into shopping with them."
For more information visit www.consumerrights.ae or call the consumer complaints hotline on 600 545555.