The Consumer Ombudsman has requested 24 Center, a company offering on-call services for building service engineering, to remedy their practices so that they meet the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act. The consumer protection of platforms leaves a great deal to be desired, and, therefore, the Consumer Ombudsman has stepped up their monitoring of platforms.
On their website, 214 Center offers consumers the opportunity to order various repair and maintenance services, such as those offered by plumbers or locksmiths, by calling an on-call phone number. However, the website failed to provide clear information on the party which the contract is concluded. Many consumers have received surprisingly large invoices for maintenance work, with such cases also appearing in news reports and in reports submitted to consumer authorities. However, the problems are larger than just pricing, and 24 Center, as a platform, is not the only company engaged in unlawful practices.
”Platform economy is growing and bringing useful services to consumers. At the same time, companies are looking for limits for how they can operate on various platforms. At times they forget the basics of consumer protection. Consumers still need to be aware of the party with which they conclude a contract and its terms,” says Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen.
With whom is the contract concluded?
From the viewpoint of consumers’ decision-making and rights, it is important that they are aware of the party with which they conclude contracts. To whom can they turn if they want to file a complaint or exercise their statutory withdrawal right concerning distance selling?
24 Center informed the Consumer Ombudsman that it acts as a seller of services for building service engineering. It follows from this that the consumer concludes a contract only with 24 Center and that the company also bears the seller’s full responsibility even if repairs at the consumer’s premises had been performed by a local entrepreneur. At the request of the Consumer Ombudsman, 24 Center committed to clearly stating in its sales calls and on its website that it is the seller and, thus, the consumer's sole contractual partner.
The content and price of a contract must be stated on the phone
The Consumer Ombudsman issued an admonition to 24 Center, stating that a consumer calling the on-call number must be served in a manner that is professional and careful and that takes account of the consumer's interests. The seller must inform the consumer of the content and price of the contract at its own initiative and in an understandable manner. For example, the consumer should be informed of the date and time when the service will be performed and whether more than one employees will be needed. During the phone conversation, the consumer should also be informed of any costs that are probable but still uncertain.
As the repair work progresses, it may become apparent that the service must be performed in a manner other than that agreed upon. In such a case, 24 Center must ensure that other measures are agreed on with the consumer and that their impact on the price of the service is explained.
Can urgent repair work be cancelled?
During the discussions between the Consumer Ombudsman and the 24 Center, the parties also generally discussed the fact that the urgency of repairs and maintenance also affects the consumer's right of withdrawal. Regarding urgent repairs, the consumer has no right of withdrawal unless otherwise agreed. However, the urgency must be objectively assessed on the basis of whether the consumer will incur additional damage or other material harm on account of the fact that repair or maintenance work is not carried out quickly. Such an urgent repair is involved, for example, when the consumer orders a repair of a leaking pipe.
Clearer pricing and customer service
In the negotiations, 24 Center also committed itself to publishing a price list on its website and to providing its customers with an appropriate order confirmation and cancellation form. The company has also promised to disclose the price of its on-call number whenever it is mentioned and to offer a basic-rate number for customer service purposes whenever a case involves an issue related to a previous contract.