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Top tips to help you understand subscriptions

As part of this year’s National Consumer Week campaign, we aim to raise awareness and understanding amongst consumers about subscriptions and subscription traps. Or The aim of National Consumer Week 2017 is to raise awareness and understanding about subscriptions and subscription traps.

There are a number of things you can do to make sure you know what you’re signing up for online and what you can do if you signed up to something you weren’t expecting. 

Before you sign-up

1. Make sure that you are dealing with a genuine company – especially if you have clicked on a pop-up.

Always look for:

  • A padlock symbol next to the address bar - this indicates the site is secure.
  • A secure website address - the website address should start with: https:// rather than http://. The ‘s’ indicates the website is secure
  • A legitimate company address - is there a street name, rather than a PO Box?

2. Always read the terms and conditions

It might seem obvious or laborious, but it’s important to always read the T&Cs to ensure what you are signing up to is legitimate.

Always check:

  • What exactly you are paying for and how long you are agreeing to pay for.
  • What do you get for your subscription fee?
  • Will you be charged to leave the subscription and/or is there an offer period?
  • How and when to cancel payments. 

Not what you signed up for?

1. Don’t use it

If you have signed up to a subscription, but you have decided you don’t want it, the best thing to do is avoid using it.

If you don’t use it, you’ll be able to get a refund if you’re within the ‘cooling-off period’. This period normally lasts for 14 days after you receive the first item or sign up to a service.

2. Tell the company their tactics are misleading and request a refund

A company’s tactics are misleading if they didn’t provide you with information such as:

  • That you would begin paying a regular subscription, following a free sample, trial or offer.
  • Exactly what you were paying for.
  • The cost.

If you are out with the 14 day ‘cooling-off period’, you can ask for a refund, stating that you didn’t think they made it clear you were going to be entered into a subscription.

Explain that you would like a refund and to end your subscription because you weren’t provided with the correct information.

You might also need to cancel the payments as well as telling the company you’ve cancelled the subscription.

3. Try to cancel the payments

Payment methods called Continuous Payment Authority (CPA) are often used for subscription traps. Under a CPA, a company can change how much they take in payment and the date. A CPA is set up when you provide a company with your debit or credit card details.

You can cancel a CPA, either with your bank or the company.

Alternatively, if you paid with your bank account details, this is Direct Debit payment. This gives a company permission to take money from your bank account on an agreed date and they must tell you in advance if the amount is changing. A direct debit continues until the end of a contract, or when a consumer cancels.

Spotting a subscription scam

Beware of unexpected pop-ups

Companies often use misleading tactics to convince consumers that an offer is trustworthy. A pop-up may appear when you’re browsing a site that you trust and you will then be sent to a website promoting the subscription, making it look like it is linked to the trusted website. Oftentimes, the site via the pop-up ad isn’t trusted.

Celebrity endorsements don’t mean legitimacy

Adverts for subscriptions often use celebrity endorsements or ‘reviews’ from a trusted source. The endorsements might not always be genuine and might not have the consent of the celebrity. Even if they do, a celebrity endorsement doesn’t always mean legitimacy, so make sure you are still completely clear on what you’re signing up to.

Contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service 

You can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline if you need help with a subscription trap or unwanted subscription.

Call 03454 04 05 06, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.