PS12096 - Italian Competition Authority, Enel and partner agencies fined more than 5 million for misleading practices in the sale of energy services
According to the Authority, the companies unduly provided call centre operators with lists of customers on the protected market and used an automated voice machine to promote Enel's commercial offers
The Italian Competition Authority has imposed a 3,500,000 euro fine on Enel Energia S.p.A., a 1,000,000 euro fine on Conseed S.r.l. and Seed S.r.l. jointly and severally, a 280,000 euro fine on Zetagroup S.r.l., and a 100,000 euro fine on New Working S.r.l., Run S.r.l. and Sofir S.r.l. respectively.
The proceedings originated as a result of numerous complaints from consumers and consumer associations highlighting the misleading nature of a pre-recorded message disseminated by a self-styled Enel voice machine and by call centre operators concerning the date of termination of the regulated regime referred to as the servizio di maggior tutela (enhanced protection service), establishing a protected market under the supervision of a national sectoral regulatory authority with respect to the definition of conditions of salefor small end customers. This deadline, currently scheduled for 10 January 2024, was indicated by operators as being imminent or, in any case, as being far in advance of the actual termination date. In some cases, the switch from the protected to the liberalised energy market has been presented as mandatory, which is in contrast to the truth. The misleading information was intended to induce consumers to enter into a contract on the liberalised energy market with Enel.
In the Authority's view, moreover, the conduct was aggressive, due to the insistent and repeated telephone calls disseminating the pre-recorded message, which were also directed to the many consumers who had not given prior consent to being contacted for marketing purposes.
The investigation showed that the partner agencies Conseed S.r.l., Seed S.r.l., Zetagroup S.r.l., New Working S.r.l. and Run S.r.l. knowingly carried out their sales business by making use of sub-agencies and individual agents - not authorised by Enel - who unduly had lists of customers belonging to the protected market and used an automated voice machine to promote Enel's commercial offers. The Authority has deemed such conduct as constituting an unfair commercial practice, as it is likely to significantly distort the economic behaviour of consumers - in relation, moreover, to a service of primary interest, such as the provision of energy services.
In addition, these companies, as well as Sofir Srl, were found to have failed to set up an adequate control system on their sales network.
With regard to Enel, the Authority has ascertained its failure to implement an effective control system on the ways in which partner agencies, sub-agencies, and agents connected to the latter contacted customers and acquired new contracts on the liberalised energy market by means of misleading and aggressive behaviour. The investigation highlighted Enel's full awareness of the extent and significance of the conduct covered by the proceedings, as well as the failure to adopt appropriate measures to prevent such conduct from spreading so widely on the market. In establishing the amount of the fine, the Authority took into account not only the seriousness and duration of the violations of the Consumer Code, but also the high number of consumers involved.
Rome, 18 November 2022