An analysis of cases to the Citizens Advice consumer service between June and August 2017, shows 9 in 10 people were initially refused by the company when they tried to cancel their subscription. People are tying themselves into contracts for subscriptions and are struggling to deal with the company’s terms and conditions to cancel, all the while paying out of pocket.
As part of National Consumer Week, Citizens Advice and the Consumer Protection Partnership are urging consumers to be aware of the terms and conditions of any contract before agreeing to recurring payments and companies to act responsibly when customers want to end their services.
Companies refused cancellations by asking for more notice – stretching to six months in some cases – or told people they needed to cancel through a specific route, such as phone or email. One person who contacted the Citizens Advice consumer service said they tried to cancel a subscription after they were made redundant at work only to be asked for proof from their employer – including a P45.
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, businesses can’t enforce terms on consumers that are unfair. Most payments are thought to be through a Continuous Payment Authority, where companies have the ability to change the date or amount of a payment without giving advanced notice.
Consumers told the Citizens Advice consumer service they felt it was unclear they were being signed up to a recurring payment in the first place or that the contract may continue on an auto-renewal basis. One person said they felt “tricked” into signing up for a free trial of Amazon Prime, found it very difficult to cancel and contacted Citizens Advice consumer service for help.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said “Subscriptions are very easy to sign up to but can be difficult for consumers to get out of. We know people are wasting time and energy trying to cancel subscriptions while paying out of pocket. As part of National Consumer Week, we want to make sure consumers are aware of the terms and conditions of any subscription before they sign up and companies act responsibly when customers want to end their services.”
Consumer Minister Margot James said “The UK’s consumer protection regime is one of the strongest in the world, but there is always more to do to tackle the issues that could cause the greatest harm. With 40 million people in the UK now subscribing to at least one product or service, this campaign from Citizens Advice will help ensure consumers can shop with confidence and know what their rights are should things go wrong.”
Guy Parker, Chief Executive of Advertising Standards Authority, said “Promotions which encourage people to sign-up to ongoing payments must be upfront and clear about what exactly they’re agreeing to. Burying key information in the terms and conditions can be misleading and unfair and risks leaving consumers out of pocket. We support National Consumer Week and are reminding people to ensure they understand fully the extent and nature, as well as the financial commitment, of a subscription offer before signing up to it.”
Leon Livermore, Chief Executive of Chartered Trading Standards Institute said: “Knowing your rights allows for better-informed decisions. Consumers should consider those whenever they subscribe to a new offering. If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is. Subscriptions and subscription traps affect millions in the UK. National Consumer Week offers trading standards the chance to actively engage with consumers on a local and national level, and is a first step to combating detriment and ensuring consumer protection.”
“We’re also eagerly awaiting the Government’s upcoming green paper that sets out their vision for consumer protection in a post-Brexit landscape. We will continue to work actively with our partners at the CPP to build a safer future for UK consumers.”
Andy Allen, Service Director at the UK European Consumer Centre, said “Subscriptions and subscription traps are not just issues which exist in the UK; they are right throughout Europe. National Consumer Week offers the chance to ensure that UK consumers are made aware that they are not alone if they face problems with traders in a European country outside the UK. The UK European Consumer Centre provides free advice and support.”