As part of the Government’s Better Deal, the Chancellor has announced that Which? will work with businesses to change the way they present their terms and conditions, particularly online, and help ensure there are no surprises for consumers.
This announcement comes as new research from Which? finds 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.
The most common reason people give for not reading terms and conditions is that they are too long (65%), while four in ten (38%) say it’s too hard to find the important pieces of information and a third (33%) think they’re too confusing.
The Consumer Rights Act, which came into force last month, is a big step forward in making terms and conditions clearer by requiring terms to be fair and transparent. However, with some terms and conditions as long as Shakespeare’s Macbeth (18,110 words) – for example the iTunes Store’s terms and conditions run to 19,994 words – there’s still a possibility that important points could be hidden in the detail.
Businesses shouldn’t hide behind the small print or fail to communicate clearly with their customers, as this could lead to consumers facing someunwelcome surprises. We want to work with companies to ensure they present online terms and conditions in a clear, easy-to-understand way, andtest their approach with consumers.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, said:
“The government’s Better Deal launched today is a vital step in ensuring markets work harder for families and firms and is central to our ambition to make the UK the most productive advanced economy.
“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.”
Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:
“No one should have to read endless pages of baffling legal jargon just to make sure there are no unwelcome surprises in a contract. More must be done to ensure consumers can easily understand what they’re signing up to. We look forward to working with companies to simplify their terms so people know what they’re getting when they sign on the dotted line.”
Notes to editors:
1. Which? will work with the Government to persuade sector leading, consumer-facing companies to voluntarily change the way they present their terms and conditions. We will work with sectors to identify and explore existing practices in relation to Ts&Cs, bringing prominent companies around the table, at a senior level, to identify what the issues are and what should be done to address them. The aim is to find an agreed approach that will ensure companies display key terms upfront, clearly and succinctly, and test the approach with real consumers. Which? will use its expertise in behavioural insight and research to provide support in the development of this approach.
2. Methodology: Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed 2064 UK adults online between 20th and 22nd November 2015. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of the UK population. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
3. The Consumer Rights Act makes it easier for consumers to challenge hidden fees and charges. Now the key terms of a contract, including price, may be assessed for fairness unless they are both prominent and transparent. This is an improvement for consumers because previously such terms were exempt from a fairness test if they were written in plain language. If a term is unfair then a company won’t be able to enforce it.