707 lines. Ban on consumer relations clarified after Ombudsman intervention
The Ombudsman welcomes the clarification provided by Decree-Law no. 59/2021, of 14 July, which, in accordance with the position assumed and conveyed by this State body to the Government, determines that telephone lines made available by suppliers of goods and service providers, specifically essential public services, should be free of charge or, alternatively, correspond to a geographic or mobile numbering range.
The aforementioned Decree-Law also defines the entities with competency to supervise the regime applicable to making available and publicising telephone lines for consumer contact, also creating an administrative offence regime, filling other gaps identified by the Ombudsman, following appraisal of around thirty complaints in this regard.
Although the applicable legal framework (in particular, via the Consumer Defence Law) already prohibited the use of excessive telephone lines for consumer contacts – specifically with the prefix 707 – the terms in which the law was drafted raised doubts as to its interpretation, and there was no applicable sanctions framework or inspection body, which enabled excessive telephone lines to proliferate, both in the public and private sectors.
With the new legal framework, consumers’ rights are clarified, ensuring that they do not fail to exercise their rights, namely to complain, to after-sales assistance and information, because of the cost of the call. The new law will come into force on 1 November 2021.
It should be remembered that the Ombudsman’s intervention, together with various entities, namely the Government, had already permitted the total elimination of these telephone lines with increased costs in citizens’ contact with the public administration, namely with Citizens’ Bureaux and the Tax Authority. However, entities from the State’s business sector continue to use this type of telephone lines, in particular Infraestruturas de Portugal, S.A., in spite of the fact that the Ombudsman had already pointed out the problem to the company.