Under article 21 of the Consumer Rights Directive, if you operate a consumer telephone line for post-sales enquiries, you must not require the consumer to pay more than the “basic rate” for calls to that number. If you operate several telephone lines that may be used by consumers for post-sales help, article 21 does not state whether they must all be subject to the basic rate.
In a recent case, a trader made available two telephone numbers for consumers to contact the trader for post-sales help; a basic rate landline number and a higher rate speed dial number (for use when calling from a mobile phone). The European Court of Justice (ECJ) concluded that, given the context of the provision and objectives of the Consumer Rights Directive, article 21 prevents traders from charging consumers more than the basic rate, regardless of the type of telephone number offered. The fact that a consumer is clearly informed about the existence of the basic rate number does not affect this position. Similarly, the fact that a consumer voluntarily chooses to use the higher rate number is irrelevant. A consumer cannot voluntarily waive his/her rights under the Consumer Rights Directive and pay more than the basic rate.
In the UK, this “basic rate” requirement is implemented in the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. The decision in this case contradicts UK government guidance issued when those regulations were adopted. However, UK courts are likely to follow the ECJ ruling and we expect the UK government will update its guidance in due course.
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