What's in store for customer care lines?

Added by C Gerosa | Monday 9th June 2014

There has been a lot of conflicting information recently about the impact of the Consumer Contract Regulations on 084 and 087 telephone numbers when they come into effect this week – not least articles in the press stating that “callers must not pay more than the basic rate to call an organisation” and “after 13 June your 084/087 numbers must not be live”.

I hope the following will be of some assistance to you and your customers who use these numbers:

The Regulations state:

Help-line charges over basic rate

41.—(1) Where a trader operates a telephone line for the purpose of consumers contacting the trader by telephone in relation to contracts entered into with the trader, a consumer contacting the trader must not be bound to pay more than the basic rate.

(2) If in those circumstances a consumer who contacts a trader in relation to a contract is bound to pay more than the basic rate, the contract is to be treated as providing for the trader to pay to the consumer any amount by which the charge paid by the consumer for the call is more than the basic rate.

The first thing to clarify is that the provisions are concerned with ensuring that the consumer does not incur excessive phone charges when ringing a seller about an existing contract.

  • A consumer is defined as “an individual acting for purposes which are wholly or mainly outside that individual’s trade, business, craft or profession”.
  • Acceptable number ranges which cost no more than basic rate include geographic numbers (01,02,03), free to call numbers (080) and mobile numbers (07).

So, the call must relate to an existing relationship between the trader and the consumer and the call must be from an individual consumer, not a business.

This means that using an 084 or 087 number as an enquiry line for members of the public, with whom you have no relationship, is not in breach of the regulations. Nor is using these numbers for businesses to call you. Technical support lines are exempt, provided the trader makes it clear that they are a separate service, not one for post purchase problems.

BIS has published advice that confirms that where there is an equally obvious option to call a basic rate number, the provision of a non-basic rate number will not breach the Regulations, as the consumer is not “bound” to call the 084/087 number -  they have a choice.

There is reference in 41(2) of the Regulations to refunding the consumer for calls above basic rate, our legal advisors state:

Regulation 41(1) is clear that a consumer must not be bound to pay more than the basic rate in relation to helplines which consumers use in relation to contracts which have already been entered into with the trader. It is therefore our understanding that, notwithstanding the provisions contained in Regulation 41(2) or the decision of a trader to automatically reimburse the difference in cost between the basic and premium rate, in the event that a non-basic rate helpline is used by a trader (post 13 June 2014), the trader will be in breach of the CCRs. Regulation 41(2) appears to be for the consumer’s benefit and provides an implied term to remedy the consumer if it has wrongfully been charged a non-basic rate.

No doubt there will be questions about specific instances customers find themselves in, which we (or Eversheds) will aim to assist with. Enforcement of the regulations will be by Trading Standards – although PPP have indicated that they will act on aftercare lines operating on numbers within their remit, currently 09 and 0871. We will notify members of any cases brought which offer useful precedents on enforcement.

 

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