The Consumer Association of North Rhine-Westphalia (Verbraucherzentrale Nordrhein-Westfalen) is the leading regional consumer organisation in Germany. It works in a close network of around 60 advisory centres throughout the German Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia.
These centres provide private consumers with professional advice on topics such as consumer law, energy, debt, financing decisions, private pension plans, etc. On the whole, the work of the Consumer Association of North Rhine-Westphalia receives a positive response and is often used by consumers. More than 800 000 consumer enquiries are answered every year by nearly 800 qualified employees at the advisory centres, on the phone or by e-mail. This closeness to consumers enables the Consumer Association of North Rhine-Westphalia to provide them with information on current topics. The advisory centres not only provide information and support, but also regularly hold workshops or run information stands. One department of the Consumer Association of North Rhine-Westphalia focuses on compiling and editing information on the most important consumer issues together with useful facts, figures, results and tips in its consumer guidelines. The Consumer Association of North Rhine-Westphalia additionally supports consumers with legal advice and assistance and works to encourage conciliation, but is also able to submit cases to the court if necessary. It also works to educate consumers, both by implementing projects at schools and universities and by inviting adults to learn about topics such as sustainable consumption.
The Consumer Association of North Rhine-Westphalia is established as a non-profit organisation supported by womens, family and home economics associations, trade unions, welfare organisations, tenant associations and environmental associations, as well as local consumer unions. Its main objective is to represent public interests.
Private consumers form the target group of the Consumer Association of North Rhine-Westphalia. In economic terms, consumer organisations act as a counterpart to commercial and industrial organisations by supporting private consumers so that they can use markets with an improved knowledge base and strengthened consumer rights. This encourages competition in markets and may in turn lead to better product and service quality at appropriate prices. The independent information for consumers (with regard to their commercial interests) provided by Consumer Associations in Germany is a powerful tool for overcoming problems of adverse selection due to an asymmetric distribution of information. It therefore contributes towards the development of competitive markets.
The Consumer Association of North Rhine-Westphalia is mainly institutionally funded by the State Government of North Rhine-Westphalia, local authorities responsible for general consumer-related activities and other funding bodies.
The North Rhine-Westphalia Competence Centre of Consumer Research (Kompetenzzentrum Verbraucherforschung Nordrhein-Westfalen) was established in 2011 as a collaborative project between the Consumer Association of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection of the German Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research of the German Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia. Its main objective is to support and consumer research and to develop a network focusing on research activities and projects throughout North Rhine-Westphalia with the aim of establishing international contacts and networks.