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25-points give consumers powers

Telephone companies, insurers and landlords come into the spotlight in latest government proposals. PAUL McNALLY explain

WHAT would business and consumer affairs minister Frédéric Lefebvre’s proposed new consumer law mean for you? Anyone who has fought to get a deposit back from a landlord or received a nasty shock when opening an electricity bill could benefit from the new measures on consumer rights and information being debated by MPs this month. Here we publish the list of the 25 proposed measures in full — and we ask for your suggestions on what is missing.

MOBILE PHONES
USERS whose devices are locked to a particular network could have them unlocked, free of charge, just three months after purchase. The contract would still stand for the 12 or 24 months, but mobile operators would also be required to offer at least a contract with no minimum term.

A SYSTEM of text alerts and/or automatic blocking of a device for mobile phone users who significantly exceed their monthly allowance would be introduced to avoid the shock of sky-high bills. Operators would also be required to offer personalised advice, at least once a year, if there were a better contract available to suit your level of usage. MOBILE operators would be obliged to explain any usage restrictions linked to “24/7” or “unlimited” offers. The contract would also be required to make it very clear what your cancellation rights are.

EVERY contract mobile phone customer should have access to an online area where they could manage their account, including a calculator to assess the costs of cancelling early. A NEW “social tariff ” would be introduced by every internet service provider, offering basic broadband at a reduced price for low-income households.

A NEW range of mobile phone offers should be made available for people with hearing difficulties, offering texts and internet use instead of call time.

PROPERTY
LANDLORDS who advertise the wrong surface area in property lettings ads could be forced to cut the monthly rent on a pro-rata basis. For example, if a flat measured 36m² instead of 40m², a 10% discount would be applied each month.

DEPOSITS paid by tenants moving into social housing should be limited to one month of rent. At present, some landlords require two months.

TENANTS who do not receive their deposit back within two months of their contract ending could demand a penalty equivalent to 10% of the monthly rent for every month of excessive delay. For a monthly rent of €1000, for example, a landlord who held on to a deposit for three months would have a €100 penalty to pay for returning the deposit a month late. PROPERTY management firms looking after rental properties on a landlord’s behalf would be required to advise when a contract was due for renewal and not automatically extend it.

ENERGY
ALL gas and electricity customers should be able to provide their own meter readings free of charge. Some providers currently charge for a representative to visit the property if the initial date set for the visit is not convenient. ENERGY providers would be required to provide free personalised advice to customers on how best to cut their bills, tailored to their usage. IF A customer were to contest an abnormally high bill, direct debit payments would be automatically frozen and no further money taken from the account until a full review had been completed.

HEALTH AND DEPENDENCY
CONSUMERS who buy health products online would benefit from a seven-day cooling-off period when they could return goods unopened and receive a refund. There would also be better regulation of the sale of contact lenses online.

THE notice period required for cancelling a health insurance contract would be reduced and customers would have to be provided with more information on their rights to cancel a mutuelle.

THERE would be tougher sanctions for companies providing home-help for elderly and disabled people which increased their prices more than the legal rate fixed each year by the state. CARE HOME bills would be frozen immediately when a resident dies. Some homes have been known to issue a final bill to the deceased family for the remainder of the month. They also charge excessive fees for cleaning a flat, without any inventory (état des lieux) being carried out. Money paid in advance for accommodation would also have to be refunded.

E-COMMERCE
THE fines for websites that refuse to refund customers within the legal cooling-off period for e-commerce (that is, seven days) would be doubled. THERE would be tougher measures to combat spam and better safeguards to protect the personal data of people who buy online. NEW sanctions would be applied to delivery firms if goods ordered online arrived damaged. Buyers would also have better rights to complain if the seller did not pay the correct postage on an item.

OTHER MEASURES
IT SHOULD be made easier for independent shopkeepers to switch from one supermarket franchise to another. Some of the big retail brands exercise too much control over particular areas, reducing consumer choice. NEW restrictions would be placed on manufacturers selling products under a well-known regional brand, such as Limoges porcelain and Cévennes silk, to guarantee that customers are buying what they think they are.

THE method of calculating motorway toll fees would be revised in order to make it easier for drivers to work out how much they will be charged before they join the motorway. INCREASED powers would be given to the anti-fraud watchdog DGCCRF, including stronger sanctions.

CONTRACT clauses that are found by a judge to be unfair in any individual case should be automatically removed from all other contracts that use the same wording.

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