New rules against telephone harassment come into force in France from tomorrow (April 1), concerning especially companies that seek to sell over the phone. We explain.
The main rule is that from April 1, companies will be required to ask for your explicit permission to continue the conversation at the start of the call. If you decline, they must end the call and remove your data from their list.
The rule is intended to apply particularly to companies that sell over the phone, such as insurance firms, and give the would-be customer a chance to end the call before having to listen to a long sales pitch for something they do not want.
The new rules also specify that callers must:
- Get the explicit agreement from the customer to continue the call
- Not call back if the customer said no
- Check that, if the person being called already has a contract for the product (such as insurance), that it can be ended in case of a new subscription
- Send all documents about a new contract and check they have been received and agreed to before signing the customer up to a new contract
- Wait 24 hours before signing a new contract with the customer
- Receive an electronic or handwritten signature from the customer before signing (a spoken agreement is not enough)
- Keep recordings of the call that led to the transaction for two years, to be used in case of contesting of the agreement, and ensure the recording is held securely
Breaching the new rules can result in a fine of €1,500.
Consumer association wants a total ban
It comes after repeated campaigns from consumer associations, including UFC-Que Choisir, against all types of selling over the phone.
The association has been calling for action on phone harassment from the presidential election candidates, but has so far not received a response, it has said.
Matthieu Robin, head of the finance section at UFC-Que Choisir, told La Depeche: “In addition to being a real attack on the peace of mind of consumers, [selling over the phone] is also an attack on the right to competition because one cannot compare with other products to get an overall view of the market.”
The group found that out of 9,258 complaints about insurance deals in 2020, 1,067 were about selling over the phone – the equivalent of 11.53%.
The main complaints centre on disputes over subscriptions to an insurance contract, complaints about the quality of the advice given, and disagreements over the type of contract signed.
Mr Robin said: “Information [given over the phone] is often incomplete or inaccurate. We see a very close link between the sectors that make extensive use of [phone] canvassing, and the sectors that record the most complaints from consumers.”
Callers often target older, more isolated and vulnerable people on purpose, he said.
UFC-Choisir has welcomed the new rules on phone calls, but has said that they do not go far enough.
Mr Robin said: “We want to strictly prohibit any type of unsolicited canvassing. It is quite concerning to note that, unlike SMS or email, telephone is the only communication system for which consumers must themselves indicate their wish not to be called. We need to turn this around.”
Cold calling laws
People in France can already sign up to a list (called Bloctel) to opt out of cold calls for commercial purposes, but many have said that it is ineffective.
Bloctel was introduced in 2016, and it is estimated that 3.7 million people in France have since signed up for the service.
However, a study of 12,000 people published in 2017 by consumer organisation UFC-Que Choisir found that 82% of respondents were still receiving the same or nearly the same number of cold calls.
In 2020, a ban on cold calls about eco-friendly home renovations was also brought in, following accusations that companies were harassing potential clients by phone. Some clients claimed they were being called up to 20 times a day by the same company, at all hours of day and night.