Feature - Energy regulators propose a cross-sectoral Guide on Bundled Products to protect consumers
CEER’s draft Guide on Bundled Products aims at protecting consumers who buy “bundled products” within or across economic sectors. The goal is to work with sectoral regulators, consumer protection authorities, etc. to develop guidance for companies and regulators in all sectors (not just energy). CEER seeks feedback on the draft Guide by 14 November (the deadline for submitting responses to the Bundled Products public consultation).
What is a bundle?
Bundled products are also known as combined, optional or additional services, and can be offered within a sector or across several sectors, for example broadband bundles (e.g. internet/fixed telephone/TV/mobile telephony services) or products bundled across multiple sectors (e.g. energy and household insurance; banking and travel insurance, etc.). The potential complexity, and multi-sectoral nature, of bundled products raises the question of how to help consumers make better choices when faced with complex products and markets.
What’s in the draft Guide?
The draft Guide on Bundled Products proposes a series of principles for companies across various sectors and for national regulatory authorities (NRAs) responsible for overseeing increasingly interlinked markets.
It makes 10 recommendations for companies involved in bundled products:
1. Simplicity for informed customer choices - getting it right.
2. Clear liability principles where there are multiple parties/contracts involved in the bundled product.
3. Signposting of the responsible (in-house or external) complaint handler in case something goes wrong.
4. Transparency is key.
5. On billing, the provider who sends the bill should be subject to appropriate consumer protection legislation and directly linked to the bundled services contracted.
6. On payments for bundled-only products, it must be clear in advance of signing the contract whom the customer pays and what payment method(s) may be used.
7. Respecting good guidance principles for price comparison tools.
8. The right to information about the contract conditions.
9. No disconnection of essential services (e.g. energy) in the event of non-payment of another element (e.g. maintenance contract or insurance) of the bill of a bundled product.
10. No dispute resolution fee.
In addition, the Guide proposes 5 principles for regulators:
A. Establish rules in general consumer law governing bundled products across all sectors.
B. Protect essential services.
C. Strengthen the right to exit bundle products.
D. Monitor bundles.
E. Cooperate across sectors with relevant authorities.
Rather than recommending prescriptive obligations on companies, the draft Guide develops a set of principles that encourage companies to reach better outcomes for consumers. It also promotes a consistent framework for the treatment of bundled products in all EU Member States, by setting out principles that can be adopted by companies across various sectors and NRAs to better protect consumers who choose bundled products.
The draft Guide on Bundled Products was developed by CEER in the framework of the Partnership for the Enforcement of European Rights (PEER). PEER seeks to enhance cross-sectoral regulatory cooperation at European level.
CEER’s hope is to work with sectoral regulators, consumer protection authorities, competition authorities and others through a CEER-led Partnership for the Enforcement of European Rights (PEER) on cross-sectoral issues such as bundled products and cyber security (see the CEER Press Release).