Insights Court of Justice of European Union finds that cost of calls to after-sales telephone number must not exceed standard call cost


The defendant, comtech GmbH, sold electrical equipment. It displayed on its website its after-sales telephone number beginning with the prefix 0180, which is generally used in Germany for support services at a national rate. The cost of a call to that special (non-geographic) number exceeded the amount for a standard call to a (geographic) landline or mobile number.

The claimant was a German association for combatting unfair commercial practices (Zentrale zur Bekampfung unlauteren Wettbewerbs Frankfurt am Main). It issued proceedings against comtech in Germany seeking an injunction that comtech discontinue its commercial practice, which it claimed was unfair.

The German court asked the CJEU for a preliminary ruling on the Consumer Rights Directive (2011/83/EU), according to which 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 must not be charged more than the “basic rate” for calls to that line. However, the concept of “basic rate” is not defined.

The CJEU has found 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 CJEU, 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 the Directive, namely to ensure a high level of consumer protection, confirm that “basic rate” 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 to obtain information about the contract or from asserting their rights, in particular, relating to a guarantee or withdrawal.

The CJEU also made clear that, provided 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. (Case C-568/15 Zentrale zur Bekampfung unlauteren Wettbewerbs Frankfurt am Main eV v comtech GmbH (2 March 2017) — to access the judgment in full, go to the curia search form, type in the case number and follow the link).