In Portugal, Article 9-D of the Consumer Protection Law used to impose on economic operators, the obligation to refrain from charging more than a base rate, when providing telephone lines for purposes related to a contract entered into by a consumer. However, in the absence of a legally fixed concept of “base rate”, much controversy has arisen over the practical outlines of such obligation.
To fill this gap, Decree-Law 59/2021 was published on 14 July. This diploma revokes Article 9-D of the Portuguese Consumer Protection Law, and establishes a new regime applicable to the provision and disclosure of telephone lines for consumer contacts.
This Decree-Law imposes on the economic operator, the duty to inform consumers about the price of the calls and respective telephone contact in several commercial documents and through several means of communication (such as its website), further presenting the criteria applicable in case the price is variable.
Moreover, the diploma clarifies that the cost, for the consumer, of calls made to telephone lines provided by the professional, may not exceed the value of its basic rate. For this purpose, the law under analysis establishes the legal concept of "basic rate" as the cost of an ordinary telephone call that the consumer expects to bear, in accordance with his respective telecommunications tariff.
Thus, if the professional provides the consumers with a telephone assistance service, he is obliged to provide a free telephone line or, alternatively, one that corresponds to a geographic or mobile numbering range, which in Portugal, for instance, is +351.
The legislator further enlightens that in case an additional line is available, it shall not provide a service manifestly more efficient, faster, or with better conditions than the one provided through the free telephone line, or the one corresponding to a geographic or mobile numbering range.
As for the sanctioning regime, it should be mentioned that non-compliance with these new obligations may result in the application of a fine.
The law under analysis will come into force on 1 November 2021, and the sanctioning activity resulting from non-compliance with such obligations will commence on 1 June 2022.
On what concerns the scope of the diploma, it is important to refer it applies not only to economic operators supplying goods or services, but also to entities providing essential public services, thus extending its application to services such as urban waste management, provided outside a contractual scope.
Finally, this regime solely applies to calls made by a consumer to a professional, in the context of a legal relationship. Excluding telephone calls which constitute an autonomous provision of service, such as telemedicine and televoting calls, as well as those used for fund-raising campaigns.