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Parship loses lawsuit over excessive subscription revocation

Those who want to find new life partners through Parship could be confronted with high costs as soon as they change their mind and only use the service for a short time. The question of costs when revoking membership has long been a point of contention between consumer protection organisations and Parship. According to the matchmaking company, a large part of the membership fee should be due as soon as new customers have had a few chats with singles and cost several hundred euros as "value replacement". Recently, the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of a customer. Hundreds of similar cases are now being handled in a similar way.

Background - what is parship? 

The dating platform parship is the market leader in German-speaking countries and has over a quarter of a million customers. Parship claims to have the highest success rate in Austria and to have initiated every 15th marriage in Austria. The placement rate for paying premium members is 38%, and 67% of premium members at least manage to get a date with other users. 

Parship has been around since 2000 and after its founding in Hamburg, the service has expanded to 13 other European countries as well as Mexico. In the German-speaking countries, the parent company PE Digital still generates its largest turnover and, in addition to Parship, also operates the dating agency Elitepartner with a focus on an academic clientele. PE Digital's majority shareholding is in turn held by the media holding company ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE, which also operates most of the private TV channels in Austria and has been re-bundling the dating business since September 2020.

Cost barrier and function 

The fundamental difference between Parship's free and paid services is the restriction of basic functions. The free offer includes an automated evaluation of a questionnaire filled out during new registrations and the possibility to view the profiles of other members. However, no photos are visible and free text input to actively write to other members is not possible. In order to contact other members directly or to read their messages, a paid premium membership must be taken out. Parship is not cheap, the monthly membership fee currently costs about 25 €uros, after a 6-month membership it is automatically renewed for another 12 months.

We have reported several times that the automatic renewal at Parship has repeatedly led to problems and complaints, read more about it here. 

The questionnaire mentioned was designed by psychology professor Hugo Schmale. The user inputs are psychologically evaluated, based on behavioural theory and psychoanalytical approaches. An algorithm then compares these inputs to suggest users to each other. The key of the calculation values the personality traits of customers at about 60 %, common interests as well as opinions and preferences at about 20 % each in the weighting of partner suggestions.

Current ruling of the ECJ against Parship

It was precisely the charging of this initial evaluation of the questionnaire as well as the delivery of a "portrait of the partnership personality" so described in Parship's updated GTCs that was the bone of contention in the last lawsuit (Case C-641/19), which has now been decided in favour of a Parship subscriber by the European Court of Justice. 

What is important about this court decision is that in the case of a revocation received within 14 days by a new customer, Parship may only claim its services provided so far on a pro rata temporis basis and no longer the majority for an annual subscription.  

In the specific case, the plaintiff had concluded a premium annual membership for €523.95 in November 2018. Only after four days and within the legally prescribed cancellation period, she declared her withdrawal from the contract. Parship charged her a whopping €392.96 as compensation for lost value.  

Parship's position was that the new customer had expressly agreed to receive initial services from the beginning, which also corresponded to the largest service provided: 
After a thirty-minute personality test, new members immediately receive automated partner suggestions in the same federal state. Premium members receive a 50-page personality assessment, which in turn basic members can buy as a partial service for a fee. 

However, the ECJ ruled that in the case of revocation, only a proportionate amount is to be offset. In the case in question, the woman who had cancelled after 4 days was charged 5.74 euros, which corresponded to four times the daily value (365th of the annual price). The court further stated: Only if a contract expressly provides for a separate price for services at the beginning of the term is this due. In the contract in question, however, no separate price for any individual service had been noted.

Tip: For this reason, when concluding contracts in the future, be sure to pay attention to what is written in the small print of your contract! Parship and Elitepartner will adapt their GTCs accordingly and presumably obtain your consent separately, which would fulfil the requirement of separate price information at the beginning of the term. This is currently mentioned under point 11.3 in the GTCs of Parship!

The case is now back at the Hamburg District Court, where the interpretation of EU consumer rights is being implemented in concrete terms after confirmation by the ECJ. According to the Hamburg District Court, several hundred parallel proceedings are already underway and several individual cases have already been decided in favour of consumers in similar situations.

I have paid too much - what can I claim? 

If you have taken out a Premium Membership with Parship before 8 October 2020 and have withdrawn from the contract within 14 days and have paid the full value replacement, you should now request Parship to refund the excess value replacement and set a deadline of 2 weeks for the requested repayment. 

Calculate the amount of money you can claim back: 

  1. You divide the amount paid by this number of days and get the daily price. 
  2. You multiply the number of days since the conclusion of your contract up to and including the day of your cancellation by the daily price and receive the so-called compensation for lost value to which Parship is entitled according to the court.
  3. Subtract the compensation for lost value from the amount paid in. You enter this difference, which you have paid too much according to the court, in the sample letter and claim it back from Parship/Elitepartner. 

If Parship does not respond, they can sue for a refund of the amount minus the daily rate with very good chances of success. The limitation period here is three years. The colleagues of Stiftung Warentest maintain a list of law firms that are specialised and successful against Parship.

 

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