In March 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union, issued its judgment, in Case C-568/15 Zentrale zur Bekämpfung unlauteren Wettbewerbs Frankfurt am Main eV v comtech GmbH, ruling 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.
The Court pointed that that under the first paragraph of Article 21 of Directive 2011/83, the Member States are to ensure that where the trader operates a telephone line for the purpose of contacting him by telephone in relation to the contract concluded, the consumer, when contacting the trader, is not to be bound to pay more than the basic rate.
However, the concept of a ‘basic rate’, referred to in that article, is not defined by Directive 2011/83. Hence, in those circumstances, the meaning and scope of that concept must be determined by considering its usual meaning in everyday language, which suggests that the concept of ‘basic rate’ is related to the rate set for a standard call.
In addition, taking also into account articles 6,19, and 21 of the Directive 2011/83, the concept of ‘basic rate’ refers to an ordinary rate for a telephone call at no additional cost for the consumer.
An interpretation of the concept of ‘basic rate’ to the effect that traders are permitted to charge rates higher than that of a standard call to a geographic landline or mobile telephone line would be liable to discourage consumers from using a telephone helpline in order to obtain information in relation to the contract concluded with the trader or from asserting their rights relating to, inter alia, a guarantee or withdrawal.
The Court also makes clear that, provided that 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.