EU High Court Weighs in on Austrian Mobile Surcharge Case (Oct. 28, 2013)
A law prohibiting surcharges on certain types of payments should apply to mobile carriers, an adviser to the EU’s Court of Justice told the Austrian Supreme Court, which is currently deliberating an appeal by T-Mobile after the carrier’s surcharges were ruled illegal by lower Austrian courts.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by a consumer group against T-Mobile over the provider’s policy of charging customers extra for paying with cash, check or online bill pay. After losing in trial and appellate courts, T-Mobile appealed to the Austrian Supreme Court. After hearing arguments in the case, the high court sought guidance from the EU’s Court of Justice as to whether Austria’s ban on payment surcharges complied with EU law and whether it applied to mobile providers. Last week, Court of Justice Advocate General Melchior Wathelet advised the Austrian court that such surcharge bans are indeed legal, and that Austria’s ban is applicable to any form of payment a T-Mobile customer makes to the carrier, according to a report by Courthouse News Service. EU law empowers member nations to limit surcharging, with the goal of preventing unfair pricing, increasing competition and enabling customers to make payments conveniently, Wathelet wrote in his opinion, adding that surcharges often are used by companies to increase profits, rather than to recover costs, as is often claimed. However, he said, both Austrian and EU law give mobile providers the right to give customers discounts for using payment types deemed to be more efficient.
Wathelet’s opinion is not legally binding on the Austrian court, which has begun deliberations on the case.