In the digital age, more and more consumers are using services, such as streaming services or dating agencies, which are offered via the internet. The providers are often active throughout the EU and operate their websites in several languages.
In principle, a high level of consumer protection applies in the EU, for example against cost traps. In addition, essential information such as the total price must be displayed in a clear and comprehensible manner.
However, there are differences in some topics in the EU states, depending on which law is applicable, for example in the case of automatic contract renewal.
- When you take out a subscription, you buy an online service for a certain period of time, for example a streaming service.
- There are different types of subscriptions: basic versions, fee-paying subscriptions, trial subscriptions.
- Contracts concluded online are subject to a 14-day right of withdrawal.
- Reliable providers of online subscriptions can be recognised by the button solution ("Buy now" button) and the reference to the right of withdrawal.
- In the General Terms and Conditions you will find information on the contract duration, the notice period, automatic contract renewal.
- The cancellation button will be available from 1 July 2022. Providers subject to German law must provide a button on their website that can be used to cancel an online subscription.
- What are online subscriptions?
- What types of subscriptions exist?
- How do I recognise a reliable provider?
- Button solution: protection against subscription traps
- Tip for cancelling online contracts
- The right of withdrawal
- Risk of confusion: the difference between revocation and termination
- What are the general terms and conditions?
- Contract duration and notice periods
- Can I cancel the subscription before the end of the contract period?
- What about automatic contract renewal?
- How do I cancel an online subscription?
- Sample letters to cancel a subscription
- This applies from 1 July 2022: the cancellation button
- Which law applies if there is no choice of law clause in the T&C?
With a subscription, you receive services for a longer period of time.
Many subscriptions can be taken out online, such as dating agencies, paid email boxes, access to platforms and clouds (internet-based providing of storage space, computing power or application software as a service).
Subscriptions can also include regular delivery of goods over a longer period of time, such as discount cards, guides and magazines.
Consumers should check in advance exactly what the subscription includes, how long they are bound to the subscription, whether the subscription costs money and under what conditions they can cancel.
Dishonest providers in the EU often conceal important information, for example about the costs, or they ignore their customers' wish to cancel.
From free basic versions, trial subscriptions and fee-based premium memberships, everything is possible.
Free basic versions are often advertised, especially with online dating agencies. In order to use the free version, you have to enter your contact details on the provider's website, especially your email address. However, the free basic version often only offers very limited functions.
With dating agencies, for instance, you can view the profiles of other users, but not send messages.
Or the storage space in the cloud is quickly used up. Many providers then advertise a paid version with extended contact functions or many times more storage space.
There are several indications that can point to a reliable online provider.
We provide a brief overview:
Button solution: protection against subscription traps
Ordering a paid subscription is usually done by clicking a button on the provider's website.
EU-wide (Directive 2011/83/EU), providers are obliged to label this button with the notice "Buy now", "Order subject to payment" or with a similarly unambiguous wording.
On the other hand, if the button says something else, such as "Register" or "Login", even though it is a paid service, it is not compliant. It is better to stay away.
French law provides even more protection for consumers with the so-called "double-click solution".
This means that for every online order, a full overview of the details of the order and the total price must be displayed after the first click.
Only then, with a second click on the "Buy now" button or a similarly clear wording, can a binding order be placed.
Once you have clicked on the button, the supplier must send you a confirmation across Europe.
Save or print this confirmation.
The information it contains (contract periods, etc.) will make it easier for you to cancel the contract later.
Suppliers often change their product range over time.
It can be impossible to find information about existing subscriptions that are no longer available.
Suppliers in the EU must also inform you of your legal right of withdrawal.
This means that even if you have a paid subscription, you have the right to cancel your order by notifying the supplier within 14 days.
The information about the right of withdrawal can be found in the general terms and conditions ("GTC"), in the small print.
The supplier must also give you the information in writing, for example by email.
The instructions will usually give you the email address to send the cancellation to.
Suppliers often send messages and advertisements using 'no-reply' or 'no-answer' email addresses.
You should not use these when you cancel.
If you choose to withdraw from the contract, the contract will be cancelled and you will not be required to pay the agreed price.
If you have already paid, the supplier is obliged to refund you.
If you have already used the service before you cancel, the supplier can ask you for compensation. This is called compensation for loss of value.
However, the supplier can only ask for a proportion of the total price (European Court of Justice ruling of 8.10.2020, ref. C-641/19).
In addition to revocation, there is also termination at the end of the contract period.
Time and again, we are contacted by consumers who have mistakenly used the term "termination" instead of "revocation".
The supplier then confirms that the contract has been terminated at the end of the contract period, even though the consumers wanted to end the contract immediately by revoking it.
The General Terms and Conditions or Terms and conditions (T&C) contain important information about the subscription: the content, the contract period, the cancellation period, information about automatic contract renewals, the applicable law.
Read the terms and conditions before agreeing to a free or discounted trial subscription.
Often, the provider's terms and conditions state that the subscription automatically converts to a paid subscription at the end of the trial period.
If you do not want this to happen, you must cancel in good time.
Throughout the EU, the principle applies that consumers must have the opportunity to take note of the content of the terms and conditions before concluding the contract, i.e. before pressing the "buy now" button.
Some information, especially about the content and price of the subscription, can usually be found directly on the order page. However, you will not find all the information you need there. Much more information can only be found on a separately linked page.
If there is no corresponding link to the full text of the terms and conditions on the website, this again speaks against the reliability of the trader.
Many suppliers change their terms and conditions over time, which then apply to new contracts.
The old terms and conditions are usually no longer available online, but they still apply to old contracts.
To make sure you know which contract terms and conditions apply to your existing contract, keep a copy of the terms and conditions when you sign up for your subscription.
Online subscriptions usually have a fixed term, for example online dating agencies. Many suppliers' terms and conditions also stipulate that the subscription will be automatically renewed for a certain period if you do not terminate it in good time.
Throughout the EU, the supplier must inform you in a clear and comprehensible way about the duration of the subscription, notice periods and automatic renewals.
If this information is difficult to find, it does not comply with the law.
The same applies if under the heading "contract terms" there are only paragraphs of the Civil Code, or if it is stated that the legal regulations apply.
In exceptional circumstances it is possibleto cancel a subscription before the end of the contract period. For example, if the provider fails to provide the service you have contracted for, even though you have paid the agreed price, and you have asked them to rectify the situation without success. This is called extraordinary termination.
For contracts with companies in other EU countries, Norway and Iceland, you can contact the European Consumer Centre Germany if you are not sure whether an extraordinary right of termination is applicable.
In the EU, the principle applies that the supplier must inform you in a clear and comprehensible way that contracts are automatically renewed at the end of the contract period.
The law does not specify what this information should look like. Only Belgian law explicitly requires that information on contract renewal must be highlighted in bold and framed.
Therefore, before concluding the contract, check the information on the order form and the associated terms and conditions for renewal clauses. For security reasons, save a copy of the information or take a screenshot.
Consumers are often aware that the subscription is automatically renewed at the end of the contract period, but they are not aware that they have to cancel the subscription within a certain period if they do not want the contract to be renewed.
Throughout the EU, the only requirement is that the end of the contract and the end of the notice period should not be "unreasonably far apart". In Germany, notice periods of more than three months are not permitted.
In addition, the contract period cannot be extended by more than one year after the renewal. This applies to subscriptions taken out before 01/03/2022.
Online subscriptions or, for example, gym contracts that you take out after 01/03/2022 can only be automatically renewed if the contract is renewed for an indefinite period and can be cancelled at the end of each month. You can therefore cancel these automatically renewed contracts at any time after the end of the initial contract period by giving one month's notice. It is important to note that there are special rules for fixed line, internet and mobile phone contracts. For these, the new rules apply to both old and new contracts.
If the supplier is based in another EU country where foreign law may apply, you can contact the European Consumer Centre Germany to check the contract.
Although the notice period is limited to three months, consumers often forget to cancel in time.
It is to your advantage if French, Austrian, Romanian or Swedish law applies to your subscription. In these countries, it is not enough to mention the automatic renewal at the time of signing the contract. The supplier must inform its customers of the upcoming renewal in a separate reminder letter before the end of the notice period.
Across the EU, suppliers must inform their customers in a clear and comprehensible way aboutthe cancellation conditions. You can usually find this information in the terms and conditions. This will include the email address to send your cancellation.
Be careful: Subscription customers often receive a newsletter or promotional emails from the supplier. It is not uncommon for consumers to use the "reply" function to unsubscribe from an advertising mail.
The problem is that such emails are often sent from so-called "no-reply" email addresses. If you send your cancellation to such an address, you run the risk that the supplier will not take note of your cancellation.
Therefore, send your cancellation to the email address that the supplier has specified in its terms and conditions for cancellation. Ask for a read receipt and keep your email and the supplier's confirmation.
Use our german sample cancellation letter: Download subscription cancellation
Also available in English: Download cancellation
If you decide within the first fourteen days that you do not like the subscription and want to end the contract immediately, you should declare a revocation instead of a cancellation.
If your paid subscription is subject to German law, it will be easier for you to cancel your subscription from 1 July 2022. There must be a buttonon the provider's website that allows you to start the process of cancelling your online subscription. This button must be labelled 'Cancel contract here', 'Continue to cancellation' or a similarly unambiguous wording.
If you have taken out a contract by phone, but the provider also offers the same contract over the Internet, the cancellation button must also be available to you.
The provider cannot hide the button. So if you have to search for it for a long time, this is not legal. The same applies if the wording of the button is misleading.
In the case of financial services such as a current account or credit card contract, the provider is not obliged to provide a cancellation button.
When you click on the button, you will be taken to a web page where you will be asked to identify yourself. For example, you may be asked for your name, postal address, email address and customer number.
You may also be asked to provide the name of your subscription. You will find this information, for example, in the order confirmation. You will also be asked to indicate when the contract ends.
Use the order confirmation to check the duration of the contract and the notice period. If you are not sure, do not enter a date. It will then be assumed that you want to cancel "at the earliest possible date".
By the way:
The cancellation button also allows exceptional cancellation.
In order for your cancellation to take effect, you must click on a button on this website. This button must be labelled "cancel now" or have an equally clear wording.
The supplier must then send you confirmation of your cancellation.
The terms and conditions will usually say which law applies to you. This is called a choice of law clause.
It usually says that the law of the country where the supplier is based applies. If the supplier is based in the EU, the question of which law applies may seem secondary, as there is a high level of consumer protection throughout the EU.
For example, the button solution, the right of withdrawal and the supplier's obligation to provide essential information such as the price and duration of the contract in a clear and comprehensible manner are all EU-wide.
However, there are still differences between countries, in particular some countries provide more protection for consumers than others, e.g. an obligation for the supplier to remind the consumer before the end of the contract to renew the contract or a "cancellation button".
You should therefore check whether the general terms and conditions contain a choice of law clause. As a rule, the law specified in the clause will apply.
However, you can choose German law if the following two conditions are met:
- The provider directs its business activities to the German market. For example, if they operate a .de website.
- German law is more favourable to the consumer than the foreign law chosen.
Your subscription has been renewed. However, you would like to cancel the subscription as soon as possible.
According to the T&Cs, the subscription is renewed for one year after the initial term and cannot be cancelled before that time. The choice of law clause states that Luxembourg law is applicable. However, German law is more favourable to you because you can terminate the contract with one month's notice instead of one year.
If there is no choice of law clause in the general terms and conditions, the law of the country in which the supplier is established applies.
If, on the other hand, the supplier is based in Germany, only German law applies. You cannot choose the law of the country where the business is based, even if it would be more favourable to you.
For example, if the French provider operates a website in German and you miss the cancellation deadline, you cannot rely on the fact that the provider did not remind you in a separate letter of the impending renewal of the contract, even though this is required under French law. This would only have been possible if the general terms and conditions had contained a choice of law clause in favour of French law.
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.