/ 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

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Comments

I welcome this Conversation but the poll is not very good, with options of Yes, No and Always. 🙁

What’s the difference between “Always” and “Yes”?

I presume that Yes should read Sometimes.

And don’t we need “Never”?

This was obviously completely deliberate… we just wanted to see if you read the poll in full 😉

..and there should be a semi-colon between “Sometimes” and “it depends”…

Sorry…

If that’s an indication of your ”sense of humour”, or seriousness about surveys, I’m not surprized that so many have doubts as to the validity of W? recommendations.
I’m certainly seriously considering not renewing my paid membership.
You Sir, should ”consider your position”.

Hello Josef, it was an honest mistake that was fixed as soon as possible. There was just one vote before the fix, so it hasn’t affected the results.

Now back on to the topic of T&Cs. I’m impressed by the number of votes so far, with most people saying ‘Sometimes; it depends’.

There presumably is an “unfair terms and conditions” requirement so that these clauses might be unenforceable, just as in other contracts. Can Which? tell us if this is the case?
My insurance T&Cs has what is offered in one column, and specifically what is excluded in the adjacent one, under a particular topic (such as flood, theft, and so on). T&Cs are protection for both sides but certainly need to be spelled out in plain terms.

” . . . it’s no surprise that only 65% of people are put off reading them by their length.” It surprised me: I should have thought something over 80% of people are put off reading the full t&c’s.

Joseph says:
1 December 2015

Often I have due to so much T & C’s got fed up with the reading and refused to purchase or enter into an agreement.

The Competition and Markets Authority has published a guidance booklet called “Unfair Contract Terms Guidance – Guidance on the unfair terms provision in the Consumer Rights Act 2015”. It is accessible on the CMA website.

+ 1

It’s also worth looking up the doctrine of contra proferentem which provides that where wording is ambiguous or unclear the interpretation will be against the party that put it forward. The problem is that in their determination to avoid any ambiguities and misunderstandings that would bounce back against their clients the lawyers who drafted the small print have frequently gone overboard to produce a vast heap of verbiage that it is unmanageable and often unintelligible. There’s a special word for that too but it’s not on the tip of my tongue.

🙂

I have generally been happy with the terms and conditions provided by insurance companies, which generally make it clear what is covered, what is not and what changes have been made since the previous year.

I am happy to read the terms and conditions for insurances I intend to purchase but I confess to not spending much time looking at terms and conditions for software updates and use of software, where the essential provisions are not highlighted.

I do believe that terms and conditions should protect our privacy by default and not allow details to be used for marketing or market research, or shared even with companies in the same group. The only exception I would make is minimal sharing of information about insurance claims to tackle fraud and obviously sharing with the police to tackle and prevent crime.

It is always a chore to read terms and conditions and as identified many of them are lengthy and not particularly clear. However, I wade through them as I have to satisfy myself I know what I am signing up to especially any escape or penalty clauses. I have been caught out in the past by not reading the terms and conditions.

Grahame says:
1 December 2015

Not only am I put off reading the T&C’s by their length but often by the jargon used so they are difficult to understand. Basically the companies have the customer over a barrel as it is agree to our T&C’s or don’t buy our products or use our services. If you want/need their products/services then you need to agree the T&C’s whether you agree with them or not, the alternative is to do without. The same applies to this comment.

Macnonymous says:
1 December 2015
Chas says:
1 December 2015

The reason I don’t read T&c’s is twofold: if the company intends to screw me, it will find a subtle way in the small print to do it. Coupled with this is the fact that I never understand the jargon they use, either for legal reasons or to deliberately confuse me.

I so agree

re T&Cs another problem with these (apart from their length and jargon) is that they are, literally, (very) small print. I would need a magnifying glass to read some of them – a possibility at home but not on business premises!

Could have been caught out seriously a few years ago when we went to Cuba: we had ‘worldwide’ travel insurance – but it was a US-based company that included US sanctions and excluded Cuba!

These companies should be banned.

Dear WHICH-ers,
I’m so glad something is being done about this – Well Done!
1. It is vital – especially with consumer goods and services – that T&Cs should be written in *Plain English*. So often they are written in legal jargon, and no consumer is about to pay a solicitor to interpret them. Do talk to the “Plain English Campaign” for assistance and advice – they’ve been pressing the legal profession on this matter for some time. See plainenglish.co.uk
2. HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT THE BITS THEY REALLY DON’T WANT YOU TO READ ARE IN “ALLCAPS”? ALLCAPS text is more difficult and much slower to read, so many people skip that bit. If the company needs to emphasise something, they need to use ordinary sentence case and make it bold.
3. There is very often too much text to be bothered to read. (I think the longest that I ever found ran to 27,000 words and had a readability score of 23%?) And If I took the time to read all the T&Cs right through, it would take so long that the purchase screen would probably time-out.
4. I am a Technical Writer and run Technical Writing Courses, so I cannot help but notice these things. If T&Cs are short enough, OK I’ll read it: but if it’s too long… what then? I think consumers tend to rely on the good reputation of a company not to take advantage of their customers; but that’s no protection if it comes to a dispute!
Good luck with your efforts!

rose says:
1 December 2015

Voting ‘yes’ as I always start to read the T&Cs, but sometimes give up halfway through …. even tried to read yours on the link below the comments box, but didn’t find them!

Rose – if you go right to the very bottom of the screen you will see a row of buttons, one of which is Terms & Conditions. If you click on that it will take you to the Which? ‘terms & conditions’ Home page where there is a fabulous selection of documents available relevant to the various Which? websites and functions. They are written in plain English and in an accessible style and might be a model for T-&-C’s everywhere.

Hi Rose, thanks for voting in our poll. Our site is having some slight technical issues at the moment and the T&Cs seem to have been affected – they’ll be back shortly, we’re working on it!

Like you, I always start reading as I want to know what it is that I’m agreeing to. But I always give up after the first paragraph or so, which is a bit of a risk when you think that there could be some really important bits buried further down – sometimes I use the ‘find’ shortcuts to skip to the bit which I think are important. I really want to see a key highlights document rolled out to go alongside T&Cs, it would save so much time! 🙂

The terms & conditions link is now back 🙂

Intersting that after adding a new comment, I was invited to Register: the Which terms and conditions page was completely blank! Are you haing a joke with us?!!! 🙂

Laurie says:
1 December 2015

T&C are often in super small print making them very difficult to read. This is obviously a deliberate ploy in case they might put you off buying the product.

Same as with lists of ingredients on many products.

Only problem I have with this campaign is Osborne who is more often than not a stranger to the truth

I think I would understand the bible better

I always read the T&C but the problem is trying to understand them. My last holiday insurance had 48 pages of very small print. It would have taken a QC to to fully comprehend them.

Kathryn Johnson says:
1 December 2015

There should be a limit on how long T&Cs for standard products can be. I think it’s the USA that requires government documents to state how long it takes to read and complete forms. This should apply to T&Cs including website T&Cs as well.