Law no. 23/96, of 26 July

Assembleia da República (Assembly of the Republic)


(This is not an official translation of the law)

Establishes mechanisms in the legal order to protect users of essential public services.

The Assembly of the Republic, pursuant to articles 164, point d) and 169, paragraph 3, of the Constitution, hereby decrees as follows:

Article 1
Scope and aim

1 - This Law establishes rules governing the provision of essential public services in order to protect the user.

2 - The following public services are deemed to be covered hereby:

a) Water supply service;
b) Electric power supply service;
c) Gas supply service;
d) Telephone service.

3 - For the purposes of this statutory instrument, user shall mean a natural or legal person to whom the service provider is required to provide the service.

Article 2
Right to participate

1 - User representative bodies are entitled to be consulted as regards acts defining the legal framework of public services and other general nature acts concluded between the State, Autonomous Regions or local power bodies and concessionaries.

2 - For this purpose, public bodies that represent the State, Autonomous Regions or local power bodies in acts referred to in the preceding paragraph shall communicate to user representative bodies the respective design studies and draft acts in a timely manner, so that such representative bodies are able to assess the subject within the established time limit, which shall not be less than 15 days.

3 - Bodies referred to in paragraph 1 are also entitled to be heard as regards the definition of major strategic options of public service concessionaries, as referred to in the preceding paragraph, in so far as this service is provided by a monopolistic supplier.

Article 3
General principle

Service providers shall act in good faith and in compliance with rules following from the public nature of the service, taking also into account the relevance of user interests to be protected.

Article 4
Information requirement

1 - The service provider must properly inform the other party of conditions under which the service is to be supplied and provide all clarifications to the extent they are justified, according to circumstances.

2 - Telecommunication services operators shall inform users, in a regular, timely and effective manner, of prices that apply to services provided, namely to the communication between fixed and mobile networks.

Article 5
Suspension of the public service supply

1 - The service provision shall not be suspended without an appropriate pre-notice, except in cases of unforeseeable circumstances or of force majeure.

2 - In the event of late payment by the user that justifies the service suspension, such suspension shall only take place after a written notice has been sent thereto, at least 8 days before the date on which the suspension is to occur.

3 - The notice referred to in the preceding paragraph shall justify the reason for suspension and inform the user of means available to avoid it and to resume service, without prejudice to the user being entitled to rely on rights resulting from general law.

4 - The provision of public service shall not be suspended on account of non-payment of any other service, even if included in the same bill, except where services are inseparable at a functional level.

5 - Without prejudice to the preceding paragraph, the Government shall rule by means of a decree-law, within 120 days, issues concerning value-added services.

Article 6
Right to partial discharge

Payment of a public service shall not be rejected, even if billed together with other services, and the user shall be entitled to be discharged thereof, except for the final part of paragraph 4 of the preceding article.

Article 7
Quality standards

The provision of any services shall comply with high quality standards, including user satisfaction, especially where the price setting varies depending on these standards.

Article 8
Minimum consumption

The imposition and charging of minimum consumption levels shall not be allowed.

Article 9

1 - Users are entitled to a bill specifying figures presented.

2 - In the case of the telephone service, and at the request of the interested party, the bill shall indicate services provided in the greatest detail, without prejudice to the duty on the part of the service provider to adopt appropriate technical measures to safeguard the rights to privacy and secrecy of communications.

Article 10
Prescription and expiry

1 - The right to demand payment for the provided service shall be extinguished within six months from being provided.

2 - Where, for a mistake by the service provider, the sum paid is below the amount that corresponds to the effective consumption, the right to demand the difference expires six months after the date on which the payment was made.

3 - The provision of this article shall not apply to high-voltage electric power supply.

Article 11
Mandatory nature of rights

1 - All conventions or provisions that exclude or limit rights granted to users by this law shall be null and void.

2 - The invalidity referred to in the preceding paragraph shall only be invoked by users.

3 - Users may choose to maintain a contract where any of the clauses is null and void.

Article 12
Preserved right

All legal provisions that grant advantages to the user in a specific situation shall be preserved.

Article 13
Final provisions

1 - Provisions laid down in this statutory instrument shall also apply to relationships in force on the date it takes effect.

2 - The extension of rules provided for herein to advanced telecommunication services, as well as to postal services, shall take place within 120 days, by means of a decree-law, having heard representative bodies of the respective segments.

3 - The list of user representative bodies holding the right to participate under article 2 and the previous article shall be certified and updated by the competent government office, in compliance with regulatory provisions hereof.

Article 14
Entry into force

This statutory instrument shall enter into force on the 90th day following that of its publication, except for article 5, paragraph 5, and article 13, paragraph 2.

Approved on 23 May 1996.

The President of the Assembly of the Republic, António de Almeida Santos.

Promulgated on 4 July 1996.

Let it be published.

The President of the Republic, JORGE SAMPAIO.

Counter-signed on 8 July 1996.

The Prime Minister, António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres.