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Consumers better protected against unwanted long-term contracts

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has forced eight companies that heavily used telemarketing to adjust their customer-recruitment practices. Six telecom companies have adjusted their customer-recruitment activities. The other two companies, which are not active in the telecom sector, have stopped recruiting customers through telemarketing. As a result, it becomes less likely that consumers will take out unwanted contracts. ACM took particular issue with the way these companies applied the new rules regarding the written-consent requirements for telemarketing. The written consent requirement for customer-recruitment practices over the phone, for example for telecom or energy contracts, was introduced in order to prevent consumers from ending up with unwanted contracts.

Anita Vegter, Member of the Board of ACM, explains: “The law protects consumers against taking out unwanted long-term contracts over the phone. Consumers are now offered more time to think about the offers they are given. What we saw was that companies failed to apply the rules correctly when consumers were asked to confirm offers digitally. As the customer-recruitment practices of these companies have been adjusted, consumers will benefit.”

ACM has carried out an investigation into companies that used telemarketing on a large scale to attract customers for long-term contracts such as energy and telecom contracts. Of the eight companies that have been assessed, six companies have adjusted their customer-recruitment practices, while two of them have suspended their telemarketing activities. ACM will continue to monitor customer-recruitment practices, for example by analyzing indications submitted to consumer information portal ConsuWijzer, among other sources.

New telemarketing rules

In June 2014, new European consumer protection rules came into force. In an effort to address the complaints about taking out unwanted long-term contracts over the phone, the ‘written-consent requirement’ was introduced. According to this requirement, any contract will only be considered concluded if the consumer has given his consent in writing. Consumers are thus offered time to think about whether or not he wishes to accept the offer.

In order to make sure that companies will have their customer-recruitment practices comply with the new rules, ACM has checked several companies that use telemarketing in their customer-recruitment activities. A lot of uncertainty existed about how companies can comply with the new rules. ACM therefore wishes to clarify several issues:

  • Digital consent is equal to written consent provided that several statutory conditions have been met, for example that consumers must have proof of the consent that they have given;
  • After the telemarketing call, consumers must be given the opportunity to read the offer they were given; 
  • In all cases, the form with which the contract can be cancelled must be actively offered to consumers.