Saturday, September 25

902 customer service telephones: what the law says and how it is applied

The 902 lines and other premium rate telephones have been a “trap” of which many companies and agencies have benefited for years. Finally, since December, that can no longer – or should not – happen, as a modification of the regulations requires that these services are now free or at no additional cost.

The use of the information and customer service telephones “may not imply for the consumer and user a higher cost at the cost of a call to a standard geographic or mobile landline. ”

This is established by the General Law for the Defense of Consumers and Users (Royal Legislative Decree 1/2007, of November 16) since its last amendment, which entered into force on December 23.

The same law specifies – in its article 21.2 – that, in the case of companies that provide “basic services of general interest”, calls to their customer service telephone numbers should not only be more expensive than normal calls : must be free.

What services are required to have free phones

What are these “basic services of general interest”? They are also listed in the text of the regulation:

  • Gas and electricity (these two services already they were bound for years to have free lines)
  • Water
  • Financial services
  • insurance, postcards,
  • air, rail and road transport
  • Health protection
  • Sanitation and waste, “as well as those that are legally determined”

All companies providing these services must therefore offer free telephones. The free lines are those that start with 900 or 800. They are free for the consumer or user because the one who assumes the cost of the call is the one who receives it.

The first companies denounced by FACUA For not complying with these new provisions were six airlines (Iberia, Vueling, British Airways, Aer Lingus, Level and Air Europa), some of which continued to advertise their 902 phones and others offered 901 lines, the cost of which is that of a standard call. , but not the one it should be: free.

Is 902 banned now?

Does this mean that 902 phones are now banned? No. Both these lines and others with special rates (905, 803, 806, 807, etc. –the latter generally related to leisure and entertainment or content for adults–) may remain valid.

However, according to the current text of the law, those that maintain their 902 lines are now obliged to “provide the consumer, together with the information about said special rate telephone line and under equal conditions, information about a geographic number or alternative mobile “.

In this way, the regulation tries to avoid the “trick” that many companies have used for years: yes, they had – in addition to the 902 – a normal rate telephone. But I was so hidden and in such small print in their contracts and their websites that finding him was almost a feat.

A long history against the 902

These modifications to the consumer defense law were implemented through the Royal Decree Law 37/2020, of December 22. Already three months before that date, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs had announced the measure, which it considered “social justice, which will end widespread abuse and aggravated in the context of COVID by the restrictions of capacity, mobility and presence “.

But the protests and bells against 902 in information services and customer care have a long history, long before the current pandemic. Clusters such as Internet Users Association, FACUA and the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) have been calling for the prohibition of these abusive practices for many years.

The special tariff numbers arose with a specific objective: they were more expensive calls than the provincial ones but cheaper than the national ones. Through them, it was sought facilitate communications with companies or organizations located in other provinces.

But time passed and mobile telephony, flat rates and other innovations made the initial objective obsolete. And they allowed the 902 to become a lucrative business for companies: its use could generate costs up to five or six times greater than normal calls and, according to FACUA, only in 2019 represented a cost for consumers of 99 million euros.

In 2015, the National Markets and Competition Commission had issued a recommendation for the Ministry of Industry aimed at ending the abuse of the 902.

Two years later, in March 2017, a judgment of the European Court set a precedent by specifying that “the cost of a call to a helpline telephone operated by a merchant, in relation to a contract concluded, cannot exceed the cost of a call to a standard geographic or mobile fixed telephone line”.

However, it took almost four more years for the Spanish Government to finally modify the law and thus oblige companies and organizations (even public ones, such as Renfe or Post, who used 902 phones until recently) to abandon that practice.

If they only offer us a 902, what to do?

Of course, the passing of a law does not immediately imply that all companies and organizations abide by it. In addition to the airlines already mentioned, other companies –such as the insurer Línea Directa– were also subject to complaints, because at the end of January they kept exhibiting as a contact number a 902.

In short, since last December 23, all consumers and users have the right to no longer be forced to call 902. Most companies and organizations already offer their lines free of charge –if they are basic services– or at a cost similar to that of a call to a regional landline or to a normal mobile.

And if a user discovers that a company or organization offers only a 902 line as an information and customer service telephone, they can report it through the consumption department of its autonomous community or through associations such as the aforementioned OCU or FACUA.

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