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After-sales calls should not be excessive: EU Court

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After-sales calls should not be excessive: EU Court

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(LUXEMBOURG) - The cost of making a call to an after-sales telephone number must not exceed the cost of a standard call, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.

German company comtech GmbH, which sells electrical and electronic equipment, used to display on its website the telephone number of an after-sales service beginning with the prefix 0180 - generally used in Germany for support services at a national rate.

The cost of a call to that special (non-geographic) number exceeds the amount for a standard call to a (geographic) landline or mobile number.

A German association for combatting unfair commercial practices brought an action before Stuttgart's regional court (Landgericht) seeking an injunction ordering comtech to discontinue that commercial practice, claiming it is unfair.

In that context, the Landgericht asked the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling interpreting the Directive on consumer rights.

Under that directive, the Member States must ensure that where a trader operates a telephone line for the purpose of being contacted in relation to contracts concluded with consumers, consumers are not to be bound to pay more than the basic rate for calls to that line. However, the concept of a 'basic rate' is not defined by the directive.

The Court has now ruled that the concept of 'basic rate' must be interpreted as meaning that call charges relating to a contract concluded with a trader to a telephone helpline operated by the trader may not exceed the cost of a call to a standard geographic landline or mobile telephone line.

According to the Court, in everyday language 'the basic rate' refers to the standard cost of a call. Both the context in which that concept occurs in the directive and the purpose of that directive, namely to ensure a high level of consumer protection, confirm that the concept must be understood in that ordinary sense of the term.

To permit traders to charge rates higher than that of a standard call would be liable to discourage consumers from using a telephone helpline in order to obtain information in relation to the contract or from asserting their rights, in particular, relating to a guarantee or withdrawal.

The Court also makes clear that, provided that the limit of the cost of a standard call charge is respected, the fact that the trader makes or does not make a profit through that telephone helpline is irrelevant.

Judgment in Case C-568/15 Zentrale zur Bekämpfung unlauteren Wettbewerbs Frankfurt am Main eV v comtech GmbH

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