Various operator practices exist for the determination of the payment notice fees
The practices of communications service providers offering telephone, Internet, and cable TV subscriptions are very different concerning how the amount of the fee of notices sent via letter, SMS or email – possibly multiple times – to their subscribers whose payment is overdue is determined. Some operators charge a fee for the notice – which is an amount of about HUF 50 to 300 gross on the market –, and charge this on the next invoice of subscribers, while others charge no fee or that of a lower amount for the first notice. There are also examples of the subscriber receiving a free prior notification of the upcoming payment deadline, or even the operator extending the payment deadline. In general, Magyar Telekom charges an “administrative” fee of notice of HUF 750 gross per occasion – which is unreasonably high compared to the other market players –, and invoices this already for the first notice. However, neither the number of days of delay from which and the frequency with which it may send notices, nor the conditions under which the fee may be charged, neglected, or written off subsequently become clear from the General Terms and Conditions, and on its website.
There is a way to take action against abnormally expensive and unreasonable charging schemes
Although the legislation does not provide explicitly for the fee of the notice sent, there is a legal alternative of changing abnormally high fees or unreasonable charging practices. Even if a practice is not unlawful, i.e. the infocommunications authority cannot require the given operator to change its practice as a result of an inspection, in the case of unfairness, significant harm to interests affecting multiple consumers, anyone can still contact the Media and Infocommunications Commissioner, as an institution of NMHH with separate powers. Multiple complaints have been sent to the office due to the payment notice practice of Magyar Telekom since October last year, which criticized the unreasonably high fee and the method of providing information.
Based on the complaints, the Commissioner initiated consultation, and phrased recommendations to Telekom for developing a reasonable practice that is unified for its clients. The Commissioner suggested that Telekom should – similarly to the practices of other operators – make the first payment notice free of charge, and on the other hand, urged the operator to inform its subscribers in a more transparent manner in order to enable the payment notice practice and the possible consequences to become more predictable. As a result of proceedings initiated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the same time, the operator ultimately undertook to introduce a more reasonable charging practice as per the recommendations of the Commissioner from Autumn: from the beginning of November, it will not charge a fee for the first payment notice sent via SMS, and on the other hand, it will modify its General Terms and Conditions so that they become more transparent and predictable. It will also notify its subscribers in the invoice letters concerning these changes.
Multiple organizations are acting to enforce reasonable charging practices
Naturally, subscribers must fulfil their payment obligations in a timely manner, but the operator may be expected to co-operate with the subscribers in the fulfilment of these via appropriate information. For this, the operators are required to provide clear, unambiguous information to the consumers in their General Terms and Conditions, announcements, and to specify feasible expectations. Proceedings have been launched on the initiative of consumer organisations, at the Budapest Arbitration Board based on a complaint, as well as in court based on a prosecutorial action in the public interest specifically due to the excessive amount of notice fees.
In the notice sent, the operators must call the attention of the subscriber to the possible consequences of delayed payment or non-payment in all cases: the operator may restrict the subscription service, terminate the contract, assert the claim in legal proceedings against subscribers breaching the contract due to the delay, or even initiate recovery or enforcement proceedings.
NMHH hopes that the modifications applied by Telekom in favour of reasonable charging shall serve as an example to follow for the other operators on the market as well, with which the Commissioner also performs continuous consultation and discussion.