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Recent developments in European Consumer Law: Transparency about online payments even if they are conditional – Cyber Armada Hub



Last week, on May 30, the CJEU gave its judgment in the Connie case (C-400/22) elaborating on the requirement from Article 8 of the Consumer Rights Directive to clearly label an online obligation to pay on a website on a relevant button with the words ‘order with obligation to pay’ (or an equivalent of this).


The facts of this case are interesting as it was a trader that tried to argue that the lack of clear wording on a website about an order with an obligation to pay should lead to the voidness of the concluded contract. The contract in case was a lease contract, concluded between a landlord and a tenant. Pursuant to German law, this lease contract had a ceiling on the rent that consumers had to pay and if this ceiling was exceeded, consumers could claim reimbursement of overpayments. Conny – a debt collection company – offered to collect the rent overpayments as an assignee of consumers rights. The contract between Conny and consumers was concluded online, via its website. Consumers had to approve T&Cs and click on a button to place the order, which button was not labelled with the required wording. The reason given for this was that the payment was conditional on Conny successfully securing the debt collection. Only at that time consumer would have had to pay a third of the annual rent saved, pursuant to T&Cs. The landlord used the lack of the proper labelling on Conny’s website as an argument that the assignment of consumer rights was void and, that therefore, Conny could not have been successful in claiming repayment of rent from the landlord.


Order with an obligation to pay – whether payment is conditional or unconditional


The CJEU clarifies, as expected, that the trader’s obligation to transparently inform consumers concluding a contract through its website about an obligation to pay, just before a consumer binds themselves to this payment, does not change if the payment is dependent on satisfying a subsequent condition (para 56). This allows the consumer to explicitly acknowledge his consent to be bound by an online order with an obligation to pay (paras 43, 50). The CJEU points to the lack of distinction in the CRD between conditional and unconditional payments, as well as the duty to inform placed on traders when an order ‘implies’ an obligation to pay (paras 46-47). A different interpretation would have led to traders being able to explicitly inform consumers about their obligation to pay not at the ordering process, when consumers may still avoid the order and the subsequent payment obligation, but only at a time when the payment becomes due (para 52). Traders could then circumvent their duty to inform by placing in their T&Cs an objective condition, fulfilment of which would be required to lead to a payment obligation (para 53).


Sanction of voidability


An important clarification follows in paras 54-55 of the judgment. The CJEU emphasises the CRD’s wording, which only states that a consumer is not bound by the contract in case the above-mentioned trader’s duty has been breached. This does not need to indicate that a contract is void, but rather that a consumer has an opportunity to avoid it. This would make a significant difference in cases such as the one referred to the CJEU, when it is a trader who is trying to use an infringement of consumer protection rules as a ‘weapon’ against, ultimately, a consumer.


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