Consumer Ombudsman wins another important subscription trap case

The Consumer Ombudsman has won her second subscription trap case in the Helsinki Court of Appeal. As in her previous victory, this case also involved the debt collection agency Gothia Oy and the telesales company Westerfield AG. Gothia was attempting to collect a debt referred to it by Westerfield, which was based on a consumer’s order for razor blades and socks. The consumer in question had refused to pay the debt on the grounds that they had been unable to cancel the order due to Westerfield’s inadequate customer service.

Helsinki Court of Appeal ruled on the case on 28 October, rejecting Gothia Oy’s request for leave for continued consideration. Gothia Oy’s petition to the Helsinki Court of Appeal was an appeal against a ruling delivered by Vantaa District Court on 12 June 2015. Vantaa District Court had rejected Gothia Oy’s claim.

Contract cancelled on the grounds of inadequate customer service

Both the law and the terms of the contract gave the consumer 14 days to cancel the telesales order. According to the consumer, Westerfield’s customer service number did not answer despite several attempts. Westerfield had not provided any other contact details for cancellation except a number for its customer service.

Consumer authorities have received several similar complaints about Westerfield’s inadequate customer service. Due to the public interest aspect of the case, the Consumer Ombudsman decided to assist the consumer in the court proceedings. In addition to the consumer, the Court heard testimony from four other witnesses, all of whom gave consistent accounts of Westerfield’s customer service number not answering.

The District Court found the consumer’s and the witnesses’ accounts of the inadequacies in Westerfield’s customer service to be credible. The District Court found that efficient customer service was a vital condition for the consumer’s order, and that the failure to provide efficient customer service constituted a material breach of contract by Westerfield and, therefore, grounds for cancellation of the contract. Gothia Oy’s claim was rejected, and the company was ordered to pay the consumer’s court fees.

Consumer Ombudsman has now won two important subscription trap appeals

The Consumer Ombudsman also secured another important victory against Westerfield and Gothia in October 2015. In the second case, the Court had to rule on whether the consumer in question had agreed to order more than a product sample. The Court of Appeal sided with the District Court and the Consumer Ombudsman, and ruled that no subscription contract had been established during the telemarketer’s call, and that the customer had no obligation to pay for anything other than the product sample.

The Consumer Ombudsman has taken a firm stance against debt collection relating to subscription traps this year, and has assisted dozens of consumers in district courts. The Consumer Ombudsman has won all her cases so far. The Consumer Ombudsman hopes to resolve thousands of other similar debt collection cases by securing preliminary rulings. She is also prepared to continue assisting consumers in the future in court cases involving subscription traps.

The Consumer Ombudsman talked about her efforts to combat subscription traps, and about her victories in court, in the October issue of the Consumer Ombudsman’s newsletter (5/2015). An article about the second Court of Appeal case, in which the Court had to rule on the vendor’s evidence of whether a contract had been concluded, was published on the website of the Finnish Broadcasting Company on 29 October.