Energy suppliers must offer consumers various payment options before they order an electricity rate online – including a payment method that customers without a checking account can use. This was decided by the Federal Court of Justice following a complaint by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations.

Order without account data not possible

Dortmunder Energie- und Wasserversorgung GmbH had offered its online electricity tariff via comparison portals, among others. To take out the tariff, consumers had to opt for payment by direct debit. They could not complete the order without entering their account information.

Payment by direct debit only has a discriminatory effect

The BGH agreed with the vzbv’s view that this practice is unlawful. The Energy Industry Act stipulates that household customers must be offered various payment options for energy supply contracts outside the basic supply prior to conclusion of the contract. The court criticized the fact that the direct debit was in fact only a single payment option. The online offer also appears discriminatory. It excludes from the conclusion of the contract all customers who do not have a bank account or who do not wish to pay by direct debit because they cannot ensure sufficient account coverage on the respective debit date.

Choice after the order is not enough

The defendant had defended itself by stating that the contract was only formally concluded when the customer’s application was accepted by the electricity supplier. Therefore, it would be sufficient to offer different payment options only after the order, but before the acceptance of the contract.

This argument did not convince the BGH. Customers who are excluded from the online offer from the outset could not become aware of a right of choice granted only after the order has been placed. There would only be an effective choice if customers were informed about the different payment methods before they ordered.

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