The recently approved Law no. 10/2013, of January 28, amended the (i) Public Utility Consumer Protection Act, (ii) the Consumer Protection Act and the (iii) Electronic Communications Act, in order to afford greater protection to consumers. The following are the most relevant amendments to such Acts:
- Public Utility Consumer Protection Act (Law no. 23/96, of July 26)
- If a customer of a public utility fails to pay an invoice on the relevant due date, the utility company must give the consumer a written prior notice of not less than 20 days before interrupting the service.
- If, in a dispute arising from a basic public utility occurs, the parties (provider and consumer) resort to alternative dispute resolution means, the 6-month periods for (a) the filing of proceedings/injunction by the public utility against the consumer and (b) collecting the invoice for the utility service are suspended.
- Consumer Protection Act (Law no. 24/96, of July 31)
- Under the new law, the supplier of goods or the service provider must inform the consumer – both during negotiations and on completion of the agreement – of the consequences arising out of the failure to pay the good or the service. In the absence of such information, the supplier of the good or the service provider may be deemed liable for payment of the legal costs and fees incurred in recovering the credit (in addition to the existing liability for any losses caused to the consumer).
- Electronic Communications Act (Law no. 5/2004, of February 10)
- The (a) suspension and/or the extinction of the service, the (b) termination of the corresponding contract due to failure to pay invoices by the due dates and (c) the measures applicable to the situations where telephone invoices are not paid are now regulated as follows:
- The suspension of the service provided by the companies offering public communication networks or publicly available electronic communications services, is now extended to subscribers who are not consumers, but can only occur after prior notice has been given to the consumers. In case where invoices are not paid, suspension of the service can only occur upon written notice having been given at least 20 days before the date when the service is to be suspended (and not 10 days, as before). Furthermore, such notice must state the reasons for the suspension and provide the subscriber with information on the means by which he can prevent suspension.
- If a subscriber fails to pay an invoice by its due date, the service provider shall, within 10 days after the relevant due date, notify the subscriber in writing (stating the consequences of non-payment), giving him an additional 30-day period for settlement of the outstanding invoice failing which the service may be shut off and the services contact automatically terminated. If the consumer fails to make the payment, or a payment arrangement regarding past due amounts, within 10 days after the additional 30-day period, the service provider is required to suspend the service for a period of 30 days (unless the invoiced amounts have been challenged in writing). If no payment is made within 30 days after the suspension of the service, the contract is automatically terminated.
Finally, Law no. 10/2013 applies to all contracts, regardless of the date when they were entered into, and produces effects on the billing period next succeeding April 28.
In the light of the amendments introduced by Law 10/2013, of January 28, consumers are afforded greater protection, particularly during the negotiation of public utility contracts and throughout their validity. Said protection is particularly focused on the right to information.
Indeed, as stated above, the main rule regarding the right to information (article 8 of the Consumer Protection Act, as amended, now requires that consumers be provided with the relevant information regarding the consequences of non-payment of an invoice).
Together with such right to information, Law no. 10/2013 further amends the Public Utility Consumers Protection Act and the Electronic Communications Act, and provides consumers with greater protection, notably by giving them longer periods to meet their payment obligations.