Consumer Complaint Disclosure
Recommended Minimum Standards for Consumer Complaint Disclosure
The Department of Consumer Affairs is committed to ensuring consumers are provided information about consumer complaints in a timely, fair and equitable manner.
The standards set forth in this document are intended to set a recommended minimum standard for disclosing information concerning complaints filed by consumers. They are not intended to replace the overall disclosure practices of the various agencies throughout the Department. Rather, they are offered as a model for how to handle the disclosure of information that meets certain criteria. Constituent agencies within the Department are responsible for reviewing these standards to determine how they can be incorporated into existing disclosure practices.
Public Records Act and the Information Practices Act
The Public Records Act (PRA) (Government Code Section 6250) states that "access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state." The PRA provides for maximum public access to information in the government's possession. It also provides that disclosure of information about consumer complaints may be subject to public disclosure. The standards outlined in this document are consistent with the intent of the PRA and the Consumer Affairs Act, which establishes one of the Department's most important consumer protection mandates: "educating and informing the consumer to ensure informed consumer choice in the marketplace." In light of the PRA and the Consumer Affairs Act, the Department believes there is a compelling state interest to disclose information regarding consumer complaints as soon as practical to help consumers make informed decisions.
The Department notes that while the Information Practices Act (IPA) and Article 1, Section 1 of the California Constitution place limitations on releasing personal information, they do not preclude the Department from releasing information about consumer complaints. It is the Department's view that disclosing the fact that a consumer complaint exists is consistent with the personal privacy protections at issue in the IPA, as those privacy rights apply to personal identifying information, not to information related to the conduct of business.
In keeping with the maximum disclosure intent of the PRA and the Consumer Affairs Act, it is the policy of the Department to provide consumer complaint information to consumers consistent with the following standards.
Public Access to Consumer Complaint Information
The Department and its constituent agencies are responsible for establishing policies and procedures to implement the standards set forth in this document.
Because the Department has a broad consumer protection mandate, it receives consumer complaint information about businesses not directly regulated by the Department. This information is typically received from consumers via the Department's Consumer Information Center, Office of Privacy Protection and the Arbitration Certification Program. The Department may choose to make available to consumers, in the same manner, such consumer complaint information.
Conditions of Disclosure
Consumer complaint information shall be disclosed in the Consumer Complaint History report when an Executive Officer or Chief, or his or her designee, has determined that:
- the complaint will be referred for legal action.
- the business has been provided an opportunity to respond to the complaint,
- a probable violation of law has occurred or there is a possible risk of harm to the public, and
- a substantiated consumer transaction has occurred,
A substantiated consumer transaction is defined as a bona fide financial transaction between an individual customer or patient and a business or licensee to procure and sell goods or services.
A Consumer Complaint History report shall not disclose information about a complaint if it is determined that:
- the complaint is without merit,
- the complaint involves a non-consumer matter (e.g., labor grievances, labor relations, tax matter, etc.), or
- disclosure is prohibited by statute or regulation.
A Consumer Complaint History report should not disclose information about a complaint if it is determined that:
- disclosure might compromise an investigation or prosecution, or
- disclosure might endanger or injure the complainant.
Contents of Consumer Complaint History Reports
The Department and its constituent agencies shall establish and maintain a Consumer Complaint History report, a template for which will be provided by the Department. The Consumer Complaint History report shall contain information about consumer complaints and may contain other public information that may be useful when making consumer decisions as outlined below. Copies of actual consumer complaints will not be provided under this policy.
Consumer Complaint History reports and technical language relating to the disciplinary process shall be presented in a manner that is easy for consumers to understand.
The Consumer Complaint History report shall include:
- license status and history,
- total number of complaints meeting the conditions of disclosure listed above,
- date and nature of the complaints,
- a description of how the business responded to the complaints,
- current status of the complaints, including information regarding any referral legal action, administrative disciplinary action, or criminal prosecution,
- total number of disciplinary, enforcement and public corrective actions taken by the agency,
- brief summary of disciplinary, enforcement and public corrective actions taken by the agency,
- information which is statutorily mandated to be disclosed,
- any additional public information available that may be useful to consumers when making consumer decisions, and
- a description of the type of public information not included in the report, i.e., civil judgments, criminal convictions, unsubstantiated complaints
- Disclaimers indicating the report does not constitute endorsement or non-endorsement of a business, and that the report may not contain all available information.
The report shall not include any personal information.
Disclosure of pending complaints and cases against businesses under investigation or in the process of legal action shall contain a disclaimer stating that the complaint(s) against the business is/are alleged and no final legal determination has yet been made. The report may also include further disclaimers, or cautionary statements, regarding such pending cases. Citations and Notices of Violation that have been corrected or resolved shall be reported as such.
A complaint that is determined to meet the criteria listed above should be incorporated into the Consumer Complaint History report as soon as possible, but no later than ten working days after the Conditions of Disclosure are met.
Responding to Consumer Requests for Information
The Department and each of its constituent agencies shall develop procedures for responding to consumer inquiries about businesses. These procedures will ensure consumers are informed of all of the information available through the Consumer Complaint History.
Consumer Complaint History reports shall be made available on the Internet, in writing, and by telephone, to the extent required or permitted by law. Any person may request a Consumer Complaint History report by telephone, in person, or in writing (including fax, email, and Internet). Such requests for information shall be responded to within ten working days.