Consumer Complaints in California: 4 things we learned from the new Department of Consumer Affairs data portal

Radvocate helps consumers from around the country. Our home base, though, is Oakland, California. And in addition to beautiful landscapes and ridiculous house prices, one thing California is known for is taking a lead on protecting consumers.

Effective consumer protection requires strong laws, which California models for the nation through such examples as its generally strong Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices legislation and its recent restrictions on auto-renewal of subscription services (to name just two examples).

Another requirement for effective consumer protection is strong and transparent enforcement. And it is for this reason that we were excited to check out the new Open Data Portal which the California Department of Consumer Affairs recently put online.

Here are Four interesting things we learned about customer complaints from the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Open Data Portal:

1) Contractors and Car Mechanics attract the most complaints

If you’re a person who always wonders if your contractor or auto mechanic is trying to rip you off, there’s something in this data for you. While most operations in these industries are honest and upstanding, the boards overseeing the construction and auto repair industries received more complaints than any other — over 15,000 each in the most recent fiscal year.

Count of California DCA complaints by Industry/Board (2017-18)

Count of California DCA complaints by Industry/Board (2017-18)

Count of California DCA complaints by Industry/Board (2017-18)

Count of California DCA complaints by Industry/Board (2017-18)

2) Medical Professionals aren’t far behind

Look at that top 10 list above on the right. After the contractors and mechanics, 4 of the professions rounding out the top 10 are in medical fields. When something goes wrong with a doctor, pharmacist, dentist, or nurse it’s usually a big deal, so we’re not surprised they are up there in the complaint count.

3) The bulk of disciplinary actions take place against Contractors and Nurses

Disciplinary Actions are defined by the Department of Consumer Affairs as “cases… that were referred to the Attorney General for disciplinary action. This includes formal discipline, and closures without formal discipline (e.g. withdrawals, dismissals, etc.). If we compare these to the numbers above, it looks like nursing complaints have an unusually high rate of being referred for formal discipline at about 1 in 4.*

 
Count of California DCA disciplinary actions resolved, and time to resolution, by industry (2017-18)

Count of California DCA disciplinary actions resolved, and time to resolution, by industry (2017-18)

 

*This comparison is not precise because we are compare complaints open to complains closed.

4) While complaints leading to disciplinary action took more like 2 years to resolve, those not leading to discipline are usually cleared in 2-6 months

The industries licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs make up people’s livelihoods, and so it may not be a bad thing that it takes them much longer to bring discipline to bear vs. concluding a simpler investigation.

Of course, if you’re the one making the complaint, it always helps to know what sort of timeline to anticipate.

 
Count of California DCA complaints not leading to disciplinary action, and time to resolution, by industry (2017-18)

Count of California DCA complaints not leading to disciplinary action, and time to resolution, by industry (2017-18)

 

What’s next?

Before we wrap up here, there’s one thing I want to call out. While the Department of Consumer Affairs oversees over 280 professional categories in California through at least 36 separate enforcement boards, there are several other regulatory agencies involved in protecting California consumers.

For instance, financial institutions like banks and insurance companies have their own regulatory bodies.

Another industry not overseen by the department is Telecommunications, one of Radvocate’s focus areas. In California, complaints against internet, phone, and cable providers are handled by the California Public Utilities Commission. We’ll take a look at Public Utilities Commission data in a later post…


Want to file an informal complaint through the California Department of Consumer Affairs? Start here

Want to check if Radvocate can help you file a legal claim for compensation from your phone, cable, or internet provider? Start here