by Staff Reporter
TELEPHONE companies and car parks will no longer be able to round up prices under a new law approved by the Spanish cabinet yesterday.
Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, the deputy Prime Minister, said that the new law will improve consumer protection against abuses of firms which establish conditions. “With this law, we want to put an end to the cartels which impose charges by the hour in car parks, the interminable paperwork necessary to discontinue a service which only needs a single telephone call when you want to sign up, and making the buyer pay costs which correspond to the seller,” she said.

Elena Salgado, the minister of health and consumer affairs, said that the new law will consider “abusive” clauses which round up prices of products and services, such as mobile phones and car parks.

Car parks, she said, will have to charge by the minute, not by the hour or fraction of the hour.
As to services of general interest, such as electricity, water, gas or telephone, it should be as easy to renounce the service as it is to sign up, Salgado said.

The law will also protect house buyers by banning abusive clauses in sales contracts.
Practices considered abusive are imposing penalties on the buyer if he does not accept the mortgage imposed by the promoter, or making the buyer pay taxes which should be paid by the vendor.

The new law was welcomed by José María Mugica, the director of the powerful consumers association OCU. He described the measures as positive, and said that he hoped the new law would soon come into force.

In Palma, however, the law was met with some misgivings.
Alvaro Gijon, the deputy Mayor in charge of citizen security, traffic and transport, said that it could be a “trap” as it is “a measure which is more political than of benefit to the user.” He claimed that it would force the prices of the car parks up, at least in Palma, as otherwise the firms which have the concession will not be able to cover running costs.

Gijon said that the new law would create problems for medium-large cities such as Palma, because so much money has been invested in building car parks that the running of them has had to be handed over to private enterprise, with fixed financial conditions stipulating charges for a period, in some cases as much as 30 or 40 years.

He was sceptical as to how the consumer would benefit. “Where this measure has been applied, the user has ended up paying more,” he said.
The council favours rounding up but will propose changing it from periods of up to 15 minutes to ten or five minutes.