In a preliminary ruling, the European Court of Justice has found that the transfer of standard terms and conditions from consumer gas contracts into “special” consumer gas contracts is illegal (Az. C-92/11).

© ferkelraggae-Fotolia
© ferkelraggae-Fotolia

The case was brought by the consumer advice centre of North Rhine Westphalia on behalf of 25 RWE customers. RWE had transferred a clause normally found in standard consumer gas contracts into “special” gas contracts. The clause, which is legal under German law, allowed RWE to unilaterally increase prices without giving a reason.

The consumer advice centre took the view that the transfer of the clause into special gas contracts unfairly disadvantaged customers.

In the lower courts RWE had struggled to defend its position until Germany’s Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) adjourned the case to obtain a preliminary ruling from the ECJ.

ECJ: Directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts applicable

The ECJ took the view that the EU’s directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts was applicable to the case. It reasoned that the standard clause permitting the unilateral increase in gas prices applied to standard contracts only and not “special” contracts. As a result the transfer of the clause into special contracts is unfair.

The ECJ left the question of reimbursement to Germany’s national courts. The consumer advice centre believes that due to the expiry of the limitation period, reimbursements may only be available for a period covering the last three years.