Finland’s second largest mobile operator, Sonera, has removed a statement from its website that only customers who are Finnish may buy a mobile phone in instalments.
The issue came to light after a British resident of Helsinki, who is also an Yle journalist, claimed he was turned away when he tried to buy a phone on a two-year payment plan from the company’s store in Kamppi in February this year because he did not have a Finnish identification document.
Sam Kingsley, who has lived and worked in Finland for just under four years, says he was told by the sales assistant that he could not pay for the device in instalments without either a Finnish passport or a Finnish official ID card.
“They told me they wouldn’t accept my British passport alongside my Finnish social security card, because they wanted an official Finnish document with both a photo and the social security number on the same ID,” Kingsley said.
“Being turned away like that in the middle of a busy Sonera store felt a bit humiliating and was a surprise, given that I’m resident here and have the required social security number,” Kingsley said. “But I took my ID documents straight next door to one of their competitors, where they sold me the phone on a payment plan with no problems at all.”
Kingsley said he later went online to check Sonera’s policy, and found that the website of the international telecoms giant told users that paying for a mobile phone or tablet in instalments was only open to customers who “are Finnish”.
Listing the criteria that customers must fulfil in order to pay for a device with a payment plan, the website said: “You’re over 18, you’re Finnish, you live in Finland, your credit information is in order.”
A senior officer from the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman told Yle that a sales policy which is only available to people of a specific nationality appears on the face of it to contravene Finland’s anti-discrimination laws, although pointed out that without proper investigation it is not possible to say if Sonera breached any rules with its policy.
No intention to discriminate
When approached by Yle, Sonera insisted that, contrary to the wording on their website and the alleged behaviour of their sales staff member, the company’s products are open to people who aren’t Finnish.
“We can provide finance to foreign customers, so long as they have been in the country for at least one year, and the customer needs to have a social security number,” said Heidi Kunnari, legal counsel at TeliaSonera Finland. “A Kela (Social Insurance Institution) card can be accepted as ID together with a foreign passport. So long as we can identify the customer from them together, that’s enough.”
“Our intention is not to discriminate,” she added.
Since the issue emerged, Sonera, which advertises the fact that its customers can use their phones across seven countries at no extra cost, has removed from its website the statement that its payment plans are only open to people who are Finnish.
Instead, the text now reads that customers wishing to pay by instalments “must have a Finnish social security number”.
Sonera have been asked for a comment about the changed terms and conditions.