A consumer who signs a contract for a 3G mobile phone and subscription package must receive essential and correct information from the seller. The Finnish Consumer Agency has emphasized in its own guidelines that it is essential for consumers to know if they are signing a fixed-duration contract and to be informed of gaps in the 3G network. The Consumer Dispute Board has now taken a stand on five cases in which consumers have complained about incorrect information on these basic matters.
The Consumer Dispute Board evaluated the cases on the basis of the provisions on the sale of consumer goods in the Consumer Protection Act. Among other things these state that goods are defective if they do not conform to the information provided by the seller concerning the characteristics or use of the goods.
Two consumers were told incorrectly by sellers that the 3G network covered the area where they lived. In one case the Consumer Dispute Board recommended the cancellation of the entire mobile phone and subscription package. It said that the consumer should return the mobile phone to the operator and the operator should refund the relevant part of subscription charges. The operator did not need to refund the money that had already been paid by the consumer, however, since the consumer had been able to use services.
Another consumer demanded a refund for the period when a subscription did not work properly. The Consumer Dispute Board recommended that the consumer be given a partial refund on the phone and call time package for the loss of service.
In the remaining three cases consumers said they had not been informed properly that they were signing a fixed-duration contract. One consumer also complained that a phone was too complicated for the intended purpose.
In the Consumer Dispute Board's opinion, the consumers had been given a chance to study written contract materials and phone properties before they signed a contract. The contract papers clearly stated that the contract was for a fixed duration and could not be cancelled before the end of the contract period. In these cases the term regarding the fixed duration of the contract had been presented to consumers and was part of the contract, and so no lack of conformity could be claimed.
The Consumer Dispute Board made its recommendations on the basis of written contract materials alone, since it does not have the means to investigate what took place during conversations between sellers and customers. Reports that have been received from consumers and consumer advisers suggest that the core of the problem is the information that is supplied - or not supplied - orally by the seller. This particularly concerns vulnerable groups such as elderly people. Consumer confidence is not enhanced if shop assistants and telemarketers give false or vague promises that are impossible to prove or disprove later on.