Online Download Inovice Illegal for B2B but not B2C

Many STC, especially of (mobile) phone providers have a clause stipulation that the customer will receive an "online invoice" instead of a "paper invoice". The online bill is supplied on the provider's server as a PDF to be downloaded. Upon action of consumer protection agencies, the BGH had to decide on the legality of this custom and did so with its judgment of July 16, 2009 (re III ZR 299/08).


The stipulation in dispute was
" diesen Tarifen akzeptiert der Kunde, dass er eine Online Rechnung erhält; es erfolgt kein Versand der Rechnung per Briefpost an den Kunden. Die Online Rechnung ist rechtlich unverbindlich, gesetzliche Anforderungen an Beweis, Aufbewahrung, Dokumentation u.ä. werden nicht erfüllt werden."

"...with these tariffs, the customer accepts that he receives an online invoice; no mailing by regular post of the invoice to the client will take place. The online invoice is legally non-binding for legal requirement on evidence, storing, documentation i.a. are not being met."

The court held this stipulation in the fine print as legal as long as it concerns a consumer. The consumer have no disadvantages in this regard. This is not true for B2B-customers.

Important for All

The STC of providers are usually differently worded. Therefore, you still have to carefully study these stipulations to explore if the reported judgment is applicable in your case. However, it was not decided, because the question was brought up too late in the proceedings, if this provision in the STC disadvantages the consumer in so far as it implies to the consumer that this online invoice is to replace a normal invoice and with presenting the link to download, the same legal consequences as with paper invoices will apply. At least when the STC of your provider have a wording like "unbinding", this stipulation will tend not to be illegal.

Such "unbinding invoice" cannot lead you to be behind schedule with payment. This means that until the provider sends you the invoice, he cannot demand any damages or even less sue you for payment. Whenever the provider considers you late, he will have to forward you an invoice in such manner that he can in doubt prove in court that you received the invoice. He may not raise any surcharges for such outstanding payments - the previous bill was not binding...

Hint Businesses, Freelancers Billing with VAT

Keep in mind that such bill from a German provider will not qualify you to deduct any input tax! It is possible to forward you or have you download a digital invoice but it must be signed with a "qualified digital electronic" signature.


Additional information