On October 1, 2021, a portion of the Consumer Fair Contracts Act (Gesetz für faire Verbraucherverträge) came into force in Germany, which, among other things, is intended to strengthen consumer rights by amending the provisions of the German Civil Code (BGB) on duration and notice periods. The law in question aims to give consumers greater protection against excessively long contractual terms and notice periods and against contracts concluded by telephone.
The new provisions will come into force in stages. Below are the most important expected deadlines.
From 1 March 2022: contract extensions and notice periods
Until now, contracts for the continuous delivery of goods or the continuous provision of services or works could be extended “tacitly”, i.e. automatically without the consumer’s consent, after the first expiry of the contract and after the expiry of the agreed extension period, for a further period of up to one year.
In practice, when a contract was concluded with consumers for an initial term of one or a maximum of two years, the terms of the contract could provide that the contract would automatically renew for a further year in the absence of termination by the consumer within the notice period, which could not be more than three months prior to the expiry of the respective contractual term.
In contrast, for continuing relationships concluded as of March 1, 2022, a tacit renewal will only be effective if concluded for an indefinite period of time and the contract may be terminated by the consumer after the extension at any time with a notice period of one month (§ 309 no. 9b BGB).
The amendments adopted therefore concern the admissibility of clauses in the general terms and conditions. Accordingly, companies should check their terms in good time before March 1, 2022 and adjust them if necessary. Otherwise, there is a risk of disputes and invalid clauses, which can lead to an immediate right of termination without notice (§ 312k, para. 6 BGB).
From July 1, 2022: Withdrawal button
Until now, there was no obligation for contracts concluded online to offer consumers the opportunity to withdraw from the contract online. Termination was only possible in writing, for example by fax or e-mail. In future, however, it will be just as easy for consumers to withdraw from a contract online as it is to conclude it. If a contract for a continuing obligation is concluded online, from 1 July 2022 the consumer must be able to terminate it online by means of a clearly visible and labelled button (“termination button”), which must lead the consumer directly to a confirmation page (§ 312k, paragraph 1bis 5 BGB).
As of 1 July 2022, a clearly visible withdrawal button (or similar) must therefore be placed on the website via which online contracts are concluded.
Avv. Alexander Gebhard, of counsel