FRANKFURT, July 31 Price revision clauses in
some of RWE's old gas contracts were not transparent
enough, a German court has ruled, rendering them legally void
and potentially enabling thousands of gas clients to claim back
Customers of RWE, Germany's No.2 utility, had sued the group
to receive reimbursement for gas prices increases between 2003
and 2005, claiming back more than 16,000 euros ($21,200) each.
Germany's Federal Court of Justice on Wednesday said price
revision clauses in so-called special gas contracts were
intransparent, adding it had rejected an appeal by RWE.
The court said it thereby implemented a preliminary ruling
made by the European Court of Justice, which said in March it
was insufficient to inform clients about price increases ahead
of time and give them a right of cancellation.
Instead, customers need to be aware of the criteria based on
which price revisions can take place when they sign a contract,
it said at the time.
According to North Rhine-Westphalia's consumer association,
which had lodged the suit against RWE on behalf of 25 customers,
the ruling could have wide-ranging consequences.
"Clients whose contracts contain similar clauses can claim
back money," it said, adding more than 70 percent of Germany's
13.5 million gas clients had special contracts.
RWE, which said it would reimburse clients for the claimed
amount, said it was unclear whether further complaints would
follow, adding the price revision clauses were no longer in use.
RWE supplies gas to about 400,000 customers, about 60
percent of which have special contracts.
Peer EnBW, Germany's third-largest utility, said
it had never used the price revision clauses and was therefore
unaffected by the ruling.
Top player E.ON declined to comment on any impact
on its business, adding the court's detailed written opinion on
the ruling was still outstanding.
RWE shares were down 1.7 percent by 1306 GMT while the DAX
index of blue-chip stocks was down 0.4 percent.
($1 = 0.7547 euros)
(Reporting by Christoph Steitz, Tom Kaeckenhoff and Ilona
Wissenbach; Editing by David Holmes)