Consumer Authority imposes fine on UPC
The Consumer Authority is imposing seven fines on the company UPC Nederland B.V., as a result of the manner in which UPC offered subscriptions to digital television services by means of door-to-door selling and telephone sales. The fines imposed amount to EUR 303,000*. At the start of any telephone marketing calls, UPC will in future also be obliged to clearly declare the commercial nature of the call. If it fails to do this, an incremental penalty shall be payable. Marije Hulshof, Director of the Consumer Authority explains: "Misleading or incorrect information has been used in order to persuade consumers to subscribe to a service that they had not themselves requested. Subsequently, the consumers themselves had to take steps in order to cancel their subscription. Such practices contravene the fundamental rules of consumer law and it is for this reason that we are taking action."
Background to the decision
In order to encourage the use of digital television, UPC offered existing subscribers the 'mediabox' that is needed in order to receive the digital television signal. The provision of the mediabox required the consumer to take out a digital television subscription, which, after a trial period that was free of charge, required the payment of a fee. During the period under investigation - from 1 January 2007 to 1 April 2007, the sales methods employed by UPC included door-to-door selling and telephone sales. ConsuWijzer and the Consumers' Association (Consumentenbond) received a large number of complaints from consumers with regard to the manner in which the mediabox was being offered.
- that the mediabox had been offered to them free of charge and that it was not made clear that they were obliged to take out a contract once the initial trial period had expired.
- that they had explicitly stated that they did not wish to receive a mediabox, but that one was delivered to them anyway - sometimes on more than one occasion.
As a result of these complaints, the Consumer Authority began an investigation.
Following investigations, the Consumer Authority ascertained that in distributing the mediabox and selling digital television subscriptions, UPC had contravened the law. The Consumer Authority determined that by selling digital television subscriptions by telephone, UPC had contravened the rules governing the unsollicited supply of goods and the conclusion of distance contracts. UPC had not explicitly sought consumers' permission before offering them the mediabox and issuing them with a digital television subscription. It also failed to inform the consumers that they were entitled to cancel the agreement within seven working days. By acquiring subscribers by means of door-to-door selling, UPC had also contravened the Door-to-Door Sales Act [Dutch: Colportagewet]. The problem actually involved the information that was provided to consumers. In some cases, it was misleading or inaccurate or important information was omitted. Marije Hulshof, Director of the Consumer Authority explains: "Door-to-door selling or telephone sales are both initiated by the seller. The consumer enjoys protection under the law so as to prevent him/her from being obliged to accept goods or services against his or her will. For example, the consumer is entitled to receive full and accurate information about the product that is on offer. He/she must also be able to refuse delivery of the goods or be able to return the goods without a problem. These are the fundamental rules by which companies employing these types of sales techniques must oblige."
*UPC is entitled to submit a notice of objection and an appeal against the decision of the Consumer Authority.