/ Money, Shopping, Technology

Update: We’ve launched a campaign to simplify terms and conditions

Some T&Cs are longer than Shakespeare’s Macbeth. So it’s no surprise that 65% of people are put off reading them by their length. Today we’ve launched a new campaign to simplify terms and conditions.

Our research found that nine in ten (90%) people have agreed to terms and conditions when buying a product or service online in the last year, but only 16% say they always read them.

So the Chancellor, George Osborne, has asked us to lead the campaign working with government and businesses to change the way they present their terms and conditions, particularly online, and help ensure there are no surprises for consumers.

Simple terms and no nasty surprises

The Consumer Rights Act, which came into force in October, is a big step forward in making T&Cs clearer by requiring terms to be fair and transparent.

Given how long some T&Cs are – with iTunes Store’s, for example, at a staggering 19,994 words – there’s a risk that important points could be hidden in the detail.

Commenting on the launch of our campaign, George Osborne, said:

‘A core part of securing a better deal for working people is improving transparency for consumers so I’m very pleased to welcome the new Which? campaign that will bring clarity to how businesses present terms and conditions, ensuring consumers know exactly what they’re signing up to. I hope businesses work positively with Which? on driving this campaign forward.’

Other campaign wins announced

The Government has also announced action on two of our big campaigns, mobile unlocking and dental costs.

Backing our campaign on mobile switching the Government has said it now expects industry to start automatically unlocking customers’ handsets at the end of their contract.

And on our campaign to make dental costs and treatment plans clearer, the Government has committed ensure that the contracts NHS England holds with dentists are enforced so that dentists who break the rules don’t get away with it.

Back to T&Cs

We don’t think that you should have to read endless pages of baffling legal jargon just to make sure there are no unwelcome surprises in a contract.

We think companies need to simplify their terms so people know what they’re getting when they sign on the dotted line. Do you think that terms and conditions need to be simpler and easier to read?

[UPDATE 1 MARCH 2016] Government review

The Government today announced that it has started a review of complicated terms and conditions, including a call for evidence. The Government hopes to reduce the risk of ‘nasty surprises’ hidden in opaque or lengthy T&Cs. This could involve fining businesses that don’t comply with consumer protection rules.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said:

‘It seems like everything we buy these days comes with the line ‘terms and conditions apply’. Whether it’s a train ticket, car insurance or downloading an app, we are faced with pages of small print that is difficult to navigate through.

‘If terms and conditions were clearer, and easier to navigate consumers would be able to easily consult them and make better informed choices before buying a product. It would make similar products easier to compare, increasing competition which could inevitably drive prices down for consumers.’

Our executive director Richard Lloyd said:

‘Consumers shouldn’t have to read endless pages of baffling jargon just to ensure there are no nasty surprises hidden away in the terms and conditions.’

We’re working with the Government to persuade businesses to improve their T&Cs, including bringing prominent companies around the table to address issues with T&Cs. The aim is to find an agreed approach that will ensure companies clearly display key terms upfront and to test this with consumers.

Richard Lloyd added: ‘We will be working with industry and the Government to test how T&Cs are presented, particularly online and on mobile devices, to help ensure they work better for consumers.’

Do you always read the terms and conditions?

Sometimes, it depends (74%, 15,073 Votes)

No, never (19%, 3,862 Votes)

Yes, always (8%, 1,546 Votes)

Total Voters: 20,481

Loading ... Loading ...

A simple first step: every set of T&C’s should be certified by the Plain English Campaign, at the vendor’s cost. A one-line Law that negated every clause in a non-certified T&C would soon send the iTunes Store of our world packing.

Why not use the same principal as in Model Contracts, where it is the exceptions to the standard contract that are the required reading.

Surely, if these T&C’s are worth what they are supposed to be then the customer shouldn’t even need to read them – small print or not. Where is the legislation to protect innocent users? If I had difficulty seeing or understanding text would that discount any protection I had? Surely not! It’s time T&C’s were applied to neutralise any misrepresentation rather than being there as a company escape route.

A simple solution would be a requirement to summarise the key points at the start of any contract etc, referring to numbered paras etc which follow. Where the maker of the document has failed to direct the reader’s attention to essential content, he should not be allowed to rely on any “hidden” exclusions/provisions. Equally all relevant terms such as “loyalty customers” should be included in a glossary of terms at the end. Hopefully Which’s “terms & conditions and community guidelines are already complant?” ome of the banks and building societies are the worst offenders!!!

I’m guessing Which? would rather this topic hadn’t been started, but it has, so what does Which? feel about any company that creates a service with the understanding that it will only cease if the company disappears or if the member leaves, and which then goes about cancelling the service out of the blue, with no consultation with its members, precious little notice, and – to cap it all – makes a change allowing the termination only the day before the notice to terminate is sent out or, to put it another way, only changes the rules 22 years after it started the service?

Good practice or the ultimate in shoddy behaviour?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Did I? I’ve only lately been referring to Which?’s Ts&Cs that for their email service allow them to change. Maybe it was late and i’ve forgotten…… 🙁

No; Tort law still prevails, but the behaviour of Which?, although possibly not technically illegal, is certainly the actions of a thoroughly disreputable business,let alone what one might expect from a leading consumer charity.