Consumers’ voices have been heard: written confirmation proposed for telemarketing

Proposed legislative reform that applies among other issues to telemarketing and doorstep selling has moved to Parliament after the Government issued its proposal on the matter on 17 February 2022. Deviating from the proposal put forward by a working group that has been handling the matter, the Government’s proposal calls for the introduction of written confirmation for sales made through telemarketing. The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA) sees the proposal as being very important from the consumer’s point of view.

Research has shown that telemarketing causes many problems for consumers, and the FCCA has long called for tighter regulation. The proposed legislation on telemarketing, which is being debated at the same time as the so-called Omnibus Directive, would take effect on 1 December 2022. The other regulations in the proposal would take effect already on 28 May 2022. If the Government’s proposal passes, the legislation would bring many improvements to consumer protection, the most important of which is the written confirmation of telemarketing sales.

Written confirmation would especially benefit vulnerable consumers by giving them security and time to consider their purchases

Written confirmation of telemarketing sales would mean that after a marketing call, the seller would be required to send the consumer a written offer. If the consumer does not confirm the offer in writing, the agreement would not be binding on the consumer.

The written confirmation would give the consumer the time to become more familiar with the content of the agreement. This would reduce the risk of misleading, misunderstanding, and pressure from the seller, and decisions to buy would be better considered. Written confirmation especially improves the position of consumers whose ability to understand the content of an agreement made over the telephone is diminished by factors such as age, illness, or limited language skills.

An extensive survey (in Finnish) conducted by the FCCA in 2020 shows both a clear need for tighter regulation of telemarketing and that such a move has strong support among consumers. In the survey more than 80 percent of consumers did not see telemarketing as a pleasant, or a useful way of buying.

“Telemarketing situations arise unexpectedly, and it is often difficult to understand the content of the agreement. Written confirmation would prevent many problems, and the Government's proposal shows that the voices of the consumers has been heard.”

Consumer ombudsman Katri Väänänen

In addition to supporting the written confirmation of telemarketing sales, the Consumer Ombudsman has come out in favour of measures including the so-called opt-in model which would protect consumers even better. In such cases, telemarketing would be allowed only for consumers who have given advance consent to being approached.

The Government proposes that written confirmation would not be required for the sale of communications service agreements, such as telephone subscriptions, for instance. In the view of the Consumer Ombudsman, this exclusion has no justification, because although communications services are covered by their own special legislation, it does not offer consumers the same protection that a written confirmation does.

Significant changes to doorstep selling

The Government’s proposal also aims at finding solutions to problems involving doorstep selling by extending the right to cancel a sale to custom-made goods if the seller has approached the home of the consumer uninvited. In addition, if there is no right to cancel a doorstep selling contract, and the seller does not mention this, the agreement will not be binding on the consumer. A consumer who wants to invoke the non-binding nature of an agreement must inform the trader of this within 12 months of the signing of the contract.

The number of problems in doorstep selling skyrocketed after 2014 when restrictions were imposed on the right to cancel. An expanded right of cancellation brings consumers more security and enables more thorough consideration following an unexpected sale situation. Greater clarity in cancellation rules would also ease the situation of the sellers.