Reforms to the administrative procedure for handling consumer complaints in Costa

Picture of José Pablo Valverde

José Pablo Valverde

Picture of Andres Martínez

Andres Martínez

Picture of Josué Barahona

Josué Barahona

Picture of Daniela Monge

Daniela Monge

With the aim of expediting the handling of complaints, recent reforms have been implemented in the administrative procedure for consumer protection. Among the most notable changes is the transition to a predominantly written process, characterized by the elimination of the in-person conciliation hearing as well as the elimination of remote conciliation. With this change, the conciliation stage will be conducted in writing, with each party responsible for presenting their conciliation proposals.

Regarding oral and private hearings, these are now reserved exclusively for cases involving testimonial or expert evidence.

Some of the main changes produced by the reform can be found in Chapter IV of the Regulation. These create variations in the procedure before the National Consumer Commission. As a first point, in relation to the process of admissibility, correction, and rejection of complaints, it was previously indicated that the Technical Support Unit (UTA) had a period of 30 days to review the complaint. If it was necessary to correct it, the complainant was given up to 10 business days to make the necessary modifications.

With the reform, the UTA is not subject to a maximum period to rule on the admissibility of the complaint; instead, it specifies that any correction or rectification of defects must be made within a period not exceeding 5 days. If the complaint is not corrected or is inadmissible, it will be outright rejected.

Another major modification is found in the conciliation stage (formerly known as the preliminary stage of Alternative Dispute Resolution), where the parties are notified and urged to present settlement proposals. This stage has an initial period of 15 business days, extendable to 7 business days if necessary and justified by the parties. If there is no agreement, the complainant must ratify their complaint within a period of 5 days, under penalty of filing (previously, 15 days were granted). An appeal may be filed against the decision to file the case.

Once the conciliation stage is concluded, the special consumer procedure will begin, with UTA officials forming a directing body and having 5 business days to initiate the procedure. With the issuance of the opening order, the charges will be transferred, and the business will have the right to make allegations and present relevant evidence within a period of 5 business days. This is a substantial change in the process, as under the previous regulation, the appropriate procedural moment to present evidence and make substantive allegations was during the oral and private hearing; that is, previously they were made in person and orally at the respective hearing.

The period to file appeals against the opening resolution was reduced from 3 business days to 24 hours from notification. Previously, there was no maximum period to resolve appeals. However, the reform now establishes a period of 8 business days for both the directing body to resolve the reconsideration appeal and for the CNC to resolve the appeal, this period beginning once the respective appeals are filed.

Regarding oral and private hearings, these will be scheduled in cases where it is necessary to obtain testimonial or expert evidence. If there is only documentary evidence, the oral hearing will be omitted, and instead, a resolution will be issued giving the parties 3 days to address the evidence and make their conclusions.

If the hearing is necessary, the summons will be made 5 business days in advance of the scheduled date of the hearing, a period that was reduced from the previous 15 business days. The parties are obliged to serve the summons notices to the proposed witnesses and experts; if the diligence of the summons is not proven, the rule stipulates that the process will be conducted in writing; that is, an oral hearing will not be convened, and a written period for conclusions will be granted.

Once the oral hearing is held or the written period for conclusions has expired, the instruction of the procedure is concluded by an order of the directing body, and the file is transferred to the CNC for a final decision. If the directing body considers that additional evidence is needed, it will have a period of 3 business days to request authorization from the CNC to collect it, counted from the conclusion of the hearing, and the CNC will have 8 business days to resolve the request.

Regarding the final resolution, the reform establishes that the UTA will have a period of 15 business days to prepare the project that will be reviewed and approved by the CNC, and the CNC must issue a final decision within the subsequent 10 business days.

Concerning the reconsideration appeal against the final resolution, the period for filing does not change with the reform, as the 3 business days to file it remain. On the other hand, the reform introduces a maximum period for the UTA to submit said appeal, stipulating that the body will have 8 business days to do so. Likewise, it specifies that the CNC will now have a period of 8 business days to issue the respective resolution.

Additionally, in line with the provisions of art. 56 of the Law for the Promotion of Competition and Effective Consumer Defense, art. 101 of the Regulation establishes the obligation for businesses to designate an email address for notifications, which will serve as the point of contact and official means of communication for all cases processed against that business.

It is the obligation of the business to keep this information updated, as failure to provide a suitable electronic means for notifications will necessarily result in the application of automatic notification, meaning that procedural actions and resolutions will be considered notified 24 hours after their issuance and publication in the Electronic File System.

In conclusion, the reforms significantly alter the procedure, so we recommend taking into account the changes mentioned here to properly defend the interests of your business.