Think before you sign – top 10 tips for saving on subscriptions

Think before you sign

Don’t fritter away your hard-earned money on unwanted subscriptions

top 10 tips for savings on subscriptions with picture of contract

It’s National Consumer Week and this year’s theme is “Before You Sign.”

Citizens Advice research revealed this week that in just three months consumers spent an average of £160 on unwanted subscriptions, including gym memberships, television and online streaming services. The consumer organisation also found that between June and August 2017, 9 out of 10 people were initially refused by companies when cancellation of an unwanted subscription was requested.

So what are your rights and the best ways to deal with these subscriptions? Here are my top 10 tips.

1) Be aware of the “free” and very cheap trials of subscriptions. Most, if not all, will ask for payment information when you sign up. Set yourself a reminder to cancel a day before the first payment is due.

2) Check the cancellation rights before signing up to anything but be aware that you may still be able to challenge these in certain circumstances.

3) Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, you are entitled to a 14 day “cooling off” period, so if you have signed up to something off premises (e.g. online) you can cancel with no penalty.

4) Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, consumers are protected from unfair contracts. So, for example, if a company says that you must give 6 months’ notice to cancel a subscription, that would be unfair.

5) The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2014 state that companies must provide accurate and sufficient information for consumers to make a purchasing decision. For a practice to be unfair under these rules, they must harm, or be likely to harm, the economic interests of the average consumer. For example, when a shopper makes a purchasing decision he or she would not have made had he or she been given accurate information.

6) If you are going to sign up to a subscription, try and use Direct Debit where possible. With Direct Debit, a company cannot change the regular payment amount. Using a Direct Debit or credit card is known as a Continuous Payment Authority which can be of varying amounts which can be changed without your consent.

7) When you cancel with the company, also inform your bank to ensure that the subscription payment is cancelled. You will then also be covered by the Direct Debit Guarantee, which ensures a full and immediate refund of the amount paid from your bank or building society if a mistake is made.

8) Check that the site is genuine. The website address should begin with “https”, have a padlock symbol, a full correspondence address (not a PO box number) and any trade logos should be genuine. Also, search the Internet for reviews and check for warning signs like lots of grammatical errors or a domain name that uses a well-known brand/product but isn’t the official website or ends in .net or .org as these are rarely used for online shopping sites. You can also check who registered the domain via the com website.

9) If you want to cancel, do so quickly and in writing so you have evidence. If you are prepared to discuss the matter because you want to haggle for example, telephone helpline numbers cannot cost the consumer more than the basic rate, so no 084 and 087 numbers. If companies do use these then they are in breach of the The Consumer Contract (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 and Ofcom regulations.

10) When writing to cancel, provide all details of the policy/memberships etc., dates of subscriptions and request that the cancellation is made with immediate effect. Name the laws above and describe how the company is in breach, if relevant.

More at How to challenge terms & conditions (even those you’ve agreed)

Top 20 Tips How to Complain!

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For masses more information, advice, tips, consumer laws and template letters get the GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

 

 

How to challenge terms & conditions (even those you’ve agreed)

The One Show today covers Terms and Conditions. Who reads them? Would you follow them if told?

There are pages and pages of small print. How many of us tick the box that says “Agree to terms and conditions”, only to fall foul later when we need to complain?

The Government thought so too and there was a call for evidence from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills for consumers to provide feedback regarding their experiences. The open consultation ended on 25 April 2016 but there is still no response. I’ve requested details of when this will be forthcoming but as yet not heard anything.

So what can you do in the meantime if you feel that the terms and conditions you agreed to actually turned out to be unfair? Don’t worry, all is not lost!

Consumer Rights Act 2015 and unfair contracts
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA) creates a ‘fairness test’ to stop consumers being put at unfair disadvantage. A term is unfair if it tilts the rights and responsibilities between the consumer and the trader too much in favour of the trader. The test is applied by looking at what words are used and how they could be interpreted. It takes into consideration what is being sold, what the other terms of the contract say and all the circumstances at the time the term was agreed. There is an exemption for the essential obligations of contracts – setting the price and describing the main subject matter – provided the wording used is clear and prominent. There is also an exemption for wording that has to be used by law. If you have been misled into making a decision that you would otherwise not have made then the company is in breach of this law.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (amended 2014) (CPUTRs)

For a practice to be unfair under these rules, they must harm, or be likely to harm, the economic interests of the average consumer. For example, when a shopper makes a purchasing decision he or she would not have made had he or she been given accurate information or not put under unfair pressure to do so.

The regulations prohibit trading practices that are unfair to consumers. There are four different types of practices covered:

A general ban – on conduct below a level which may be expected towards consumers (honest market practice/good faith).

Misleading practices  a practice misleads through the information it contains, or its deceptive presentation, and causes, or is likely to cause, the average consumer to take a different transactional decision specifically; general misleading information, creating confusion with competitors’ products or failing to honour commitments made in a code of conduct.

Aggressive sales techniques using harassment, coercion or undue influence– significantly impairs, or is likely to significantly impair, the average consumer’s freedom of choice or conduct in relation to the product through the use of harassment, coercion or undue influence – and  thereby causes him to take a different transactional decision.

31 specific practices (that would be two long boring pages of  post! It is pretty thorough though and all of them are listed in the book ). 🙂

How to use
Say for example, your mobile ‘phone is constantly losing signal and you can’t use it like any customer would want to, that is a breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 because it has not supplied you with services carried out with reasonable skill and care and you have every right to terminate the contract. If however, the company tells you that in the terms and conditions of the contract that you signed, you can’t break a contract early under any circumstances, that’s a breach of the above laws, because they have not kept to their side of the bargain! In fact, the telecoms sector is downright awful for customer service so here is some more advice on them. All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers.

Another example. You were told that you could have a free cup of coffee and cake for giving your email address. You signed up. You had your coffee and cake they then tell you that in the terms and conditions you have to clean the floor. You argue that you didn’t know but they say “It’s in the terms and condition”. Tough. For them. Under the CRA it could be an unfair contract, because cleaning the floor could be considered as worth more in payment than the coffee and cake (maybe it would depend how big the floor was?!) But under the CPUTRs it is a big fat breach. You would argue that you were misled into giving your email address.

When you complain use the Top 20 Tips.

To keep up to date with the latest information about consumer rights sign up to the newsletter. You won’t be bombarded with emails because I can’t be bothered to set up all those automatic weekly things trying to sell you Stuff! I probably only get round to doing a couple a year!

 

For more information, advice, tips, consumer laws and template letters covering the majority of issues you might incur with most sectors  GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

 

 

 

BA flies in the face of consumer law and decency

Customers who bought tickets for the economy cabin on short-haul and domestic flights from Heathrow and Gatwick flying from January 11, 2017, and from London City and London Stansted by summer 2017 are being stung and will find that food and drinks are no longer free! Has it become a no frills airline? On the 29th September this year BA announced to great fanfare that it had partnered with Marks and Spencer. The new British Airways menu, which will replace the airline’s current complimentary snacks, includes items from the M&S Food on the Move selection. Well that’s nice isn’t it? Well maybe spending a few quid might be better than the free alcoholic drink and a few free nibbles in the future but what about those people who bought their tickets before the 29th September? They lose out, that’s what.

You may think that customers only lost the cost of a drink and a few nuts. But stop, don’t flee yet. How many tickets do you think were purchased before the 29th September this year for flights after the 11th January 2017? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Ok, so just how much have they actually saved? That’s the principle after all. Couple of pounds on every flight, you do the math, it’s thousands and thousands of pounds right?

“Oh” I hear you cry “But BA will refund the cost of the “free” drink and nibbles so they won’t make that money”. Really? It wouldn’t appear so. Those people who have already booked flights received an email starting with “Thank you for booking your flight with British Airways. We’re writing to let you know about some key changes that are taking place to our on-board catering.” The press release followed. There is no mention at all of compensation, partial refund or how to make a complaint. They may not refuse any calls of this nature but why the lack of transparency or assistance for customers. There’s nothing on their website either!

I asked the BA Press Office for a response and so far have not received one. I tweeted BA and they said all flights after 11th Jan will have new catering menu. “Breach of contract” says I and here is their stance on that:

@Airways 

@ComplainingCow Hi Helen, sorry for the delay in replying. We’ve given our customers a four month notice period of the changes… most short-haul customers do not book this far in advance, but any customers who hold bookings from January 11th 2/3… and are unhappy are welcome to contact us to discuss their booking.

So, there you go. BA will discuss your bookings but will not actively point out that they have broken the terms and conditions of contracts.

Right, well that’s it. It’s the principle of the thing. It doesn’t matter if you think it is only a few quid or you are just a bit miffed or even if you don’t care. BA appears to be making money from this. Instead of doing it properly and offering vouchers/AVIOS points or partial refunds to affected customers it would appear that it has simply informed them that the terms and conditions have changed and hoped that the majority of people won’t bother complaining. They would not be out of pocket and the PR would have been much better showing them to be doing the “right thing”.

So, we can’t catch all the customers affected and of those we catch we can’t get them all to complain. But we can have a damn good try at knocking the BA profits and making sure customers actually get what is legally due. How? Like this:

  • Email the CEO. You can find his address at ceoemail.com
  • Provide details of when you bought the tickets and the booking reference numbers
  • Tell him that BA is in breach of contract for breaking the terms and conditions of the contract you have.
  • Say that you are aware that the breach falls under The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, Regulation EC 1008/2008 – Article 23 Transparent pricing, Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and Consumer Rights Act 2015 (including Part 2 Unfair Terms).
  • State that you are entitled to a full refund on the ticket or you will accept a partial refund for the value of the “free” drink and food that formed part of the contract. (Both ways!)
  • Inform him that should you not receive a satisfactory response you will not hesitate in taking the matter further such as the Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme.
  • Optional – say that you are disgusted with the way BA has handled this matter and will be spreading awareness of people’s legal rights via social media. (And then of course do so, the more people we empower to fight for their rights the better so do your bit!)

Don’t be fobbed off by any  requests to call an 0844 number either as these are no longer permitted for after-sales enquiries and issues, Regulation 41 of  aforementioned Consumer Contracts (Information Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. Refuse to ‘phone anyway because you want your answer in writing should you need the evidence! A call won’t give you that. Why you should write not ‘phone to complain effectively.

If you bought your ticket(s) through a travel agent you will need to contact them as if you paid the travel agent directly the contract is with them.

Beat BA at their own game and don’t let these big businesses get away with it. Call them out on it and ensure you get your legal redress whilst you are about it.

If you want to do more about asserting your legal rights and need some help. See the Top 20 Tips for complaining effectively and the book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results packed full of information, guidance, advice, consumer law and template letters.

Who’s bothered about Ts and Cs ?

Terms and conditions, who reads them? They are pages and pages of small print. How many of us tick the box that says “Agree to terms and conditions”, only to fall foul later when we need to complain?

This may be set to change following a call for evidence from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills for consumers to provide feedback regarding their experiences. The open consultation begins today and ends on 25 April 2016.

Helen Dewdney – Consumer Rights Blogger at The Complaining Cow and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results – welcomes the call for evidence. Currently under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 consumers do have rights regarding unfair contracts. The law creates a “fairness test” to prevent consumers being put at an unfair disadvantage.

If a contract tilts the rights and responsibilities between the consumer and the trader too much in favour of the trader, then it can be deemed unfair. “That’s all well and good”, says Dewdney, “but when so few people know their basic consumer rights and even fewer know that they can challenge unfair terms and conditions then they are more likely to be fobbed off or be unable to cancel a contract”.

Dewdney should know as this is a topic she frequently advises on for people. For example, hidden charges within terms and conditions saying that ‘a charge’ could be made but not providing the amount until after the flight booking process. People are not aware that this illegal.

Nick Boles, Minister of State for Skills and Equalities, says in his foreword to the call for evidence document “on the rare occasions I have clicked on and opened ‘T&Cs’, I have found them to be very long, in small print and full of impenetrable jargon and legalese. That does not help anyone and certainly doesn’t encourage further engagement by customers”.

Dewdney agrees and also points out the need for people with disabilities to be considered more than they are now in this area. For example, an audio version of a terms and conditions document should be available as standard for those with vision difficulties.

There should also be recognition that more people are agreeing contracts online, so terms and conditions need to be easily readable on mobiles in addition to being fundamentally clearer and shorter. There should also be a requirement for companies to highlight changes to terms and conditions. For example when a bank sends pages of updated terms and conditions and you have no idea what has changed!

Dewdney hopes that the call for evidence will expose a plethora of examples of poor practice. She says “Undoubtedly people’s biggest gripes about t & c’s is the length of them and anything that leads to companies being forced to reduce this burden would be welcomed by the consumer.”

Note to editors

Government Improving terms and conditions consultation here

More about how to complain about unfair contract terms here and here.

Talking about Ts and Cs 18 months later: