3 october 2016
The government decree on electricity supply settlement and measurement will be amended on 3 October 2016, improving the consumer’s position in the case of electricity telesales in particular. The improvement concerns situations where the electricity supplier changes, or where the consumer is unaware of having entered into an electricity supply contract with a new supplier. The consumer may demand that the contract be returned to the old electricity supplier.
The legal amendment addresses a problem sometimes encountered in electricity telesales: the seller and the consumer do not always agree on whether a verbal electricity supply contract has been made during the call.
The consumer may deny the validity of an electricity supply contract
If the consumer denies having entered into a new electricity supply contract, they must send a written notification to the network operator – the local electricity transmission company – where they deny the validity of the electricity supply contract they have allegedly made. In such a case, the network operator will not implement the change of electricity supplier. If the consumer has already been transferred to a new electricity supplier, the network operator will transfer them back to their previous supplier. It is not the network operator’s task to investigate whether the consumer has a valid reason to deny the existence of a new electricity supply contract.
In addition to the network operator, the new electricity supplier must be notified of the denial. In practice, the consumer must send it a complaint denying the validity of the new contract.
The new electricity supplier must be able to demonstrate that the consumer truly entered into a contract with it. In the case of telesales, the supplier may demonstrate the existence of a contract by playing a recording of the phone call, demonstrating that the consumer approves the contract and that the making of the contract was also otherwise valid. If the consumer approves the making of a contract, the new electricity supplier may continue to supply electricity to them. If the consumer and the new electricity supplier disagree on the validity of the contract even after hearing the recording, the consumer may refer the matter to the Consumer Disputes Board.
The information presented above does not affect the consumer’s right to cancel a contract made through telesales within the statutory 14-day cancellation period laid down in the distance selling provisions of the Consumer Protection Act. The consumer may deny the validity of the contract regardless of the the cancellation period, including after the new electricity supplier has begun supplying electricity.
Sector-specific provisions on telesales are not enough
The Consumer Ombudsman emphasises that problems arising in telesales cannot be solved by means of the sector-specific provisions that have now been amended in terms of electricity supply contracts. Similar amendments have been made earlier to the telesales of mobile telephone contracts, for example.
Problems and provisions related to telesales need to be carefully weighed up, given the need to identify a legislative solution governing all goods. A potential solution would be to require the consumer’s prior agreement to telesales, as required for electronic direct marketing (the opt-in principle). In such a case, the consumer could actively select the companies whose telesales he or she is willing to receive. This would enable the consumer to prepare for marketing activities in advance. The Consumer Ombudsman submitted a motion on this matter in 2011, but no new legislation was enacted.