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The ICC to assist Consumers through the Small Claims Court

As part of the project, the Council’s legal assistance staff will be augmented, to assist consumers in preparing their court filings when applying to the Small Claims Court.

Good news for consumers who have been hurt by businesses and service providers: a new project will assist consumers who have been taken advantage of, to sue businesses in the Small Claims Court. The Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, Shalom Simhon, approved the allocation of 344 thousand NIS to the Israel Consumer Council, for a period of four months, to help it launch a project for enhanced civil enforcement in the area of consumer rights. Simhon also announced that, next year, the project would be fully funded, at a total cost of 1.8 million shekels.

As part of the project, the Consumer Council’s legal assistance staff will be augmented, to help consumers who wish to pursue legal action through the Small Claims Court in preparing their court filings. The legal assistance unit will recruit a number of law students, who will join the current two staff members. In addition, a PR campaign will be conducted, to encourage consumers to make use of the Small Claims Court, which is the most convenient court for consumers.

The Minister stated that the project’s uniqueness lies in the fact that, for the first time, the government is helping consumers in an area that they have previously found problematic – making use of the Small Claims Court. “In many instances, consumers simply don’t bother to take legal action, since it involves legal checks, expenses and the waste of valuable time. The new program will serve to fill this vacuum by assisting consumers; businesses will no longer be able exploit the delay in consumers filing claims with the Small Claims Court, and thus evade their obligations toward the consumers.”

According to Adv. Ehud Peleg, CEO of the Consumer Council, this project emphasizes empowerment of the individual consumer in taking action against a business. Not only will the individual consumer be helping himself. At the same time his actions will have a broader influence, in that they will serve as a deterrent to those businesses that treat consumers unfairly. The provision of legal assistance may make the difference between seeing justice done by ending abuses by businesses, and continuing the shameful situation of businesses exploiting them.”

The Small Claims Court is the friendliest forum in terms of procedure, and there is no need to be represented by a lawyer (in general, lawyers may not appear for clients there). However, it does not yet enjoy a great deal of public support. The public’s hesitancy in making use of the courts, along with a lack of the required language skills, cause many consumers to turn down the chance to use this judicial remedy. As a result, businesses are able to obtain a kind of de facto immunity. According to the Courts Administration, about 44,000 files are opened each year with the Small Claims Court. However, it is clear that the potential number of claims is much greater.

The Israel Consumer Council receives tens of thousands of complaints each year. In many instances, the Council’s intervention is sufficient to make the business involved grant the consumer what he is entitled to. However, where the business maintains its refusal to respect the consumer’s rights, the Council does not have direct enforcement powers, and it has to refer the consumer to the Small Claims Court.

A survey carried out for the Consumer Council by the Geocartography survey company shows that consumers are confused about such matters as the maximum sum that can be claimed through the Small Claims Court, are unaware that they can sue without the need for a lawyer, and are deterred by the bureaucracy involved in legal proceedings. As a result, they make less use of the court than they might otherwise do.

Thanks to the Minister’s decision to make funding available, this project will allow the Consumer Council to provide consumers with a service that will make it easier to protect their rights through application to the Small Claims Court.

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The Israel Consumer Council is the largest consumer organization in Israel. It is a statutory, non-profit corporation which works to defend consumers and protect their rights, by handling complaints, seeking solutions to wrongs done to consumers, and through education, enforcement and deterrence, and promotion of consumer rights.