The European Union attaches a great deal of importance to the equal treatment of EU citizens. In Directive 2006/123/EC the European Union published regulations for the provision of services on the internal market. An important point of departure of the Directive is that no distinction may be made between customers from one’s own country and customers from another EU member state. Member states of the EU must also monitor that a service offered by a service provider is accessible for everyone, without any discrimination taking place based on the customer’s nationality or place of residence.

The European Commission regularly receives complaints from consumers who do not get the best price for a hire car when they book a car online, based on their nationality or place of residence. In a letter dated 23 July 2014, the Commission wrote to six (large) car hire companies (Sixt, Enterprise, Goldcar, Europcar, Hertz and Avis) and reminded them that they must cease their discriminatory practices. Since earlier requests from the Commission to car hire companies to cease their discriminatory conduct were not followed up on, the Commission also published this letter, in the interest of European consumers.

The Commission voiced its concerns about the practices of car hire companies in which, based on his IP address, a customer is offered a different price for the hire of a particular car than a customer from a different country interested in that same car. One consumer, for example, found that the price he was offered increased by 100% when he indicated on the provider’s website that he was living in a different member state.

The Commission announced it would be keeping a close eye on the car hire companies’ practices and would file complaints with the competent national authorities where necessary. Car hire companies are asked to notify the Commission within two weeks that they will amend their practices.

It emerged from the Commission’s press release that Sixt, Enterprise and Goldcar have responded to the Commission in a satisfactory way, but that the responses from Europcar, Hertz and Avis were not satisfactory. The Commission asked the companies to report before 30 August 2014 on how they have revised their practices.

By Charlotte Raaimakers