Penalty for canceling telecommunications in loyalty generated 2.500 complaints in 2020

Number of complaints increased compared to 2019

Approximately 2.500 telecommunications customers who moved home, due to unforeseen circumstances such as unemployment or emigration, complained to the regulator about penalties for early cancellation of contracts in 2020, despite the fact that half of the year there are measures to protect those customers.

Of the 125.500 complaints about communications service providers that reached the sector regulator, Anacom, last year, 2% were due to a penalty for early cancellation, during the loyalty period, of communications services even though there was a changing circumstances in the claimant's life, implying a change of address motivated by unforeseen circumstances such as emigration, institutionalization or unemployment, among others.

This charge also represented 2% of the total number of complaints in 2019, the year in which Anacom received fewer complaints, in a total of 97.700, which translates into an increase in 2020, compared to 2019, of around 550 complaints about penalty collection in those situations. , from around 1.950 complaints in 2019 to just over 2.500 in the following year.

According to statements by Anacom to Lusa, the numbers of complaints motivated by the collection of penalties for early termination include all cases, related or not to Covid-19, under the protection legislation that, between March and September, allowed unilateral termination contracts without penalty for proven reasons, such as loss of income or unemployment.

Complaints to the telecommunications regulator due to the change of address are, in addition to the penalties for the early termination of the contract, about renegotiation of the modification of the contract motivated by the change of address, but their weight, of 3% in both 2019 and 2020, compared to total complaints, it was 2% in both years, higher than that of penalty complaints, but without increasing or decreasing.

Of the legislative measures to protect users of essential public services, such as electronic communications, between March and September 2020, Anacom's balance sheet totals 4.196 customers with mechanisms to adapt to the pandemic crisis, of which 1.296 asked the main providers to unilaterally terminate the contract , which was the most requested solution in the event of a loss of purchasing power due to the pandemic or the Covid-19 disease, and with a percentage of acceptance by providers of 92,7% (1.202) of the requests for termination.

At Vodafone, since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of requests for contract cancellations has increased by around 30%, an increase that an official company source attributes to the “justified exception reasons” that Portugal is experiencing, due to the Covid-19 disease, and which the operator claims to be “obviously sensitive” to the economic and social context and the difficulties of customers.

NOS official source, also in response to Lusa, assumed that he was “sensitive to the difficulties” of the customers and “for a long time” have special measures for the impossibility or difficulty in paying for communications services and demonstrate “flexibility” to deal with different situations , carrying out a “careful” analysis of each case and allowing, in some cases, the temporary suspension of the service or early termination without penalty.

"Altice Portugal [which owns Meo] does not provide this data, but points out that it has always analyzed (and continues to analyze), case by case, all the situations of its customers with difficulties in supporting telecommunications consumption", revealed the operator .

Even before the pandemic, unemployment, emigration and change of address, situations of abnormal - or unpredictable - change of circumstances, as the Civil Code calls it, were already justifications, after an operator's assessment based on the client's evidence, for the early cancellation of a telecommunications contract in a loyalty period.

However, changing the address only allows you to cancel the contract if it is not possible to maintain the service at the new address, with the same operator, namely because the customer has moved to a home or shared home - such as the parents' house - which has already it has a telecommunications service, generating in many cases threats from operators of the collection of penalties for breach of contracted loyalty.

These conflicts, between customers and telecommunications operators, are not for Anacom to resolve, but for the courts, including arbitration centers for consumer conflicts or judgments of peace.

Jurists from the consumer protection association Deco mediate conflicts, trying to reach an agreement between the consumer and the operator, which avoids having to resort to the judiciary to ensure that they are not penalized.

"The law, in general terms, already allows to demand cancellation or modification, but what happens is that the person [client] is a little dependent on the willingness to resolve things well by the operator", said the Deco jurist, Luís Pisco, taking the opportunity to reaffirm that the transposition of the Communications Code, expected soon, should include a permission for the consumer to “automatically” enforce this legal right.

It is that, in the absence of such goodwill from the operator, only a court can declare that the change in circumstances occurred and motivated the change or termination of the contract, a requirement that Deco says “limits the exercise” of consumer rights and constitutes an “obstacle ”To exercise.

In most of the cases mediated by the association, the consumer asks for help because he was unable to resolve the conflict "for good", admitting that there may be "thousands of other" complaints that do not reach Deco, because in the association complaints of early cancellation in telecommunications they are still residual compared to the total number of complaints, although telecommunications has been one of the leading complaints sectors for more than a decade.

"If the [communications] law defines simple and transparent procedures for proof of income loss, change of residence or emigration, for example by means of a document from the employer or the entity that failed to pay the salary in the case of dismissal", would solve many of the obstacles faced by telecommunications customers, concludes Luís Pisco.