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BLOG | Fed up with the small print?

18 Apr 2016

It seems like purchasing very nearly anything these days requires one to submit to extensive terms and conditions (T&Cs).  If you’re anything like me when presented with screeds of small print, at best you may make an attempt to skim the agreement until you lose the will to navigate through the baffling legalese (which usually occurs after the first sentence) or simply give up after your eyes get tired of squinting.  Most of the time, I avoid this altogether by quickly acquiescing to T&Cs with a swift click of the mouse or hasty signature, hoping I’ve not consented to anything ethically or economically dubious.

Although protections exist for consumers against unfair T&Cs, agreeing to terms you’ve not read can be risky and leave open the possibility of receiving goods and services that aren’t fit for purpose.  Despite this, the sheer length and complex nature of most T&Cs means many consumers skip over them, trusting that they probably understand their gist anyway.

Unsurprisingly, however, problems can and do arise.  Last year, citizens advice bureaux across Scotland dealt with nearly 7,300 cases involving problems with T&Cs across a multitude of sectors.  In one case, a client in Perthshire was unable to read the T&Cs for their home alarm system because the text was too small and so wasn’t aware they were responsible for monthly payments they couldn’t ultimately afford.   In another case, a client in Greenock went to upgrade their mobile phone plan but was unaware the original T&Cs had changed and so was prevented from doing so.

Help may now be on the way for consumers.  The UK Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has an on-going call for evidence seeking views on T&Cs and how they can be made more accessible for consumers.  The aim is to help ensure markets operate more effectively and avoid needless consumer detriment.

Citizens Advice Scotland will be responding to this call for evidence, but as Scotland’s consumer champion, it is crucial that the opinions and experiences of Scottish consumers are well represented in this process.  To that end, we have taken the UK Government’s consumer-focused questions on T&Cs and compiled them into a survey.  We’d appreciate it if you took the time to complete this survey so that we can better understand the types of problems Scottish consumers face with regards to T&Cs so that we can better inform the UK Government’s work on this issue. 

Please click here to complete the survey.  Our aim is to compile all the responses to the survey into a single Citizens Advice Scotland submission to the UK Government, highlighting specific areas of detriment and making clear recommendations as to how T&Cs could be improved.

Of course, if you’d rather submit your views direct to the UK Government, you can do so by clicking here:  https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/improving-terms-and-conditions.

In the meantime, please share with us your experiences with T&Cs in the comments section below or by submitting them directly to Patrick.Hogan@cas.org.uk.  

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