The Malta Independent 13 July 2024, Saturday
View E-Paper

MEP Alex Agius Saliba requests MCCAA to investigate 'unjust' clauses in Epic contracts

Thursday, 10 August 2023, 09:50 Last update: about 12 months ago

MEP Alex Agius Saliba has requested the MCCAA Director for Consumer Affairs to investigate whether a contractual obligation imposed by EPIC Communications Ltd is compliant with EU legislation, a Labour Party statement said Thursday.

Clause 3.1.9 of EPICs General Terms and Conditions for mobile phones contracts obliges its clients to pay extra amounts over and above their agreed contractual fees based on the rate of inflation. The same clause exempts EPIC from the provisions of an EU Directive which, in such cases, allows clients to request an early termination of their contract at no extra cost. 

The Labour MEP said he is "aware that that settled case law determined that such increases are allowed, however I have requested an administrative review about a possible breach of the EU legislation, particularly due to changes in circumstances. If it transpires that the adopted practices are legally sound, I have requested the MCCAA to consider other options to protect consumers from sharp increases in prices.”

Agius Saliba explained that the European Electronic Communications Code specifically protects consumers. Directive 2018/1972, Article 105(4) stipulates that subscribers to telecommunication services are entitled to a contract indicating the terms of their services including the payments due, and that subscribers are entitled to withdraw from the contract without penalty whenever the terms of service are modified. He noted that it appears that EPIC itaking advantage of EU Case law, specifically the case Verein fur Konsumenteninformatioin vs A1 Telekom Austria AG (ECLI:EU:C:2015:782) where the EU Court of Justice held that increases in tariffs in-line with an official inflation mechanism do not constitute a modification of the contract. Hence, consumers are not entitled for early contract termination.

The MEPs research shows that EPIC is not the only company to impose such clause. It appears that the local communications companies have recently been introducing similar clauses in an attempt to shield their profit margins from the impact of inflation. The tariff increases in accordance with the inflation index, should ostensibly encompass any supplementary operational expenditures and infrastructural development for the service being provided to the end-user. Albeit there are concerns around the apparent misalignment between the quality of service advertised and promised by these telecommunications providers, and the tangible service delivery experienced by end-users. This includes, but is not limited to, the bandwidth and throughput, network congestion, customer data security, downtime and service interruption etc. It raises questions about whether the tariff adjustments driven by the inflation index genuinely translate into tangible improvements in service provision or if there are other factors at play.

MEP Agius Saliba said that the material impact on the value of the contract and the consumers involved is much greater now than when the court judgement was given as the inflation rate has recently increased, creating more hardship for low-income consumers. The two-year life spanof most mobile phone, TV and internet service contracts is meant to give both parties greater stability. The equilibrium enables the service provider to maintain a stable revenue stream, thereby facilitating an improved level of service provision, whilst simultaneously empowering consumerwith better visibility and control over their expenditure, expecting value-for-money return for the service paid for. To undermine either side's entitlement in this equation is unquestionably inequitable.

In a statement, Epic said understands that Agius Saliba's interests are those of ensuring consumer protection and we support such initiatives. With respect to the clause mentioned in the article, we would like to reassure our customers that there has been no price increase, and that this practice tied to inflation rates, is fully transparent, widely applied locally and across the EU and in line with regulatory obligations. Epic has continuously put customers first, and has done so since its launch, when it introduced no lock-in contracts in the Maltese market.

  • don't miss