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