10 December 2015

AGCM steps up enforcement against companies guilty of selling unfair consumer contracts

The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) has recently been reviewing the offer and conclusion of consumer supply contracts to assess whether, in some cases, the process might be subject to unfair commercial practices. The AGCM has fined several suppliers for pressuring consumers to conclude supply contracts online, over the telephone or via door-to-door sales.

Regarding contracts agreed over the telephone and/or door to door, in October 2015, seven of the main Italian gas and electricity producers (ENEL Energia, ENI, ACEA Energia, Hera Comm, GdF Suez Energie, Green Network and Beetwin) were fined €6 million by the AGCM for violating the contract rules set out in the Italian Consumer Code and the Consumer Rights Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices. The investigations carried out by the AGCM identified the following violations:

  1. the conclusion of supply contracts without consumer consent and without proper identification of the service provider;
  2. the existence of various barriers that unlawfully restricted a consumer’s right to withdraw from a contract; and
  3. the methods used for the offer/agreement of distance-selling contracts were found to be incompatible with the Consumer Rights Directive.

Regarding contracts concluded online, the AGCM recently fined a Portuguese company, United Directorios lda, €500,000 for violating the rules on unfair commercial practices set out in the Italian Consumer Code.  In particular, United Directorios lda was found to have:

  1. gathered and published details of health operators on a database titled "Registro dei Medici Italiani" without their consent; and
  2. subsequently contacted the health operators published on the database and asked them to verify the information and sign up to the database module.  The health operators were not informed of the fact that signing up to the module committed them to a three year subscription to the database’s advertising services, for which they would subsequently be charged, once their right of withdrawal had expired.

The AGCM continues to hold meetings with consumer associations, such as Altroconsumo, Codacons, Federconsumatori and Unione Nazionale Consumatori, focusing on e-commerce and unfair consumer practices, including unsolicited contracts. On this occasion, the Chairman of the AGCM Mr. Pitruzzella, confirmed the AGCM’s commitment to ensure market transparency in order to safeguard consumers, especially within the e-commerce arena.

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