Have you been Subscription trapped?

“I went window shopping today.  I bought five windows.”

Tommy Cooper

Window shopping must have become more common in recent years as consumers took the opportunity to physically examine goods in shops before buying them more cheaply on line.  However, the undoubted advantages of Internet shopping bring with them pitfalls of which we should all be aware.

For example, it seems that many people across the country have committed themselves to making regular payments to sellers without being aware they had done so.  A study by Citizens Advice Locked In: consumer issues with subscription traps, reveals that people taking up free trial offers or discounted prices for things like slimming treatments or beauty treatments often find they have unknowingly signed up to make recurring payments – also known as Continuous Payment Authorities.

Citizens Advice invited just under five hundred people who had encountered problems with Continuous Payment Authorities to describe their experiences.  Four in five didn’t realise they had signed up to make the payments until money was taken from their accounts.  While the sums involved were typically around £80 in some cases customers lost much more.  In spite of assurances from the UK Cards Association that customers can cancel recurring payments with their seller or with their credit or debit card issuer:

  • Only one in eight (12 per cent) of those who asked their card issuer for a refund got all their money back,
  • 36 per cent had difficulties getting their bank or card issuer to cancel the recurring payments,
  • one in four (25 per cent) who made contact with the seller found the seller refused to stop charging them,
  • a quarter (24 per cent) were unable to contact the seller,
  • over half (53 per cent) didn’t know they should be able to cancel recurring payments with their seller or credit or debit card issuer.

Citizens Advice is calling for:

  • EU and UK law to require any terms and conditions to have the most important information clearly summarised on the first page
  • companies offering trial periods for subscription products or services should remind consumers that they will enter into a binding contract at the end of the trial period
  • the Financial Conduct Authority to produce specific guidance for banks and card issuers on how to deal with disputed recurring payments
  • Banks and credit card companies to notify account holders when they first become aware that a CPA has been set up.

What can you do?

  1. read the terms and conditions relating to a free trial or introductory offer very carefully
  2. do not commit to making a continuous payment unless you are satisfied that it is for goods or services you require and ensure you know  how to cancel  the regular payment
  3. check your debit and credit card statements regularly and if you find a continuous payment you do not recognise or have not knowingly authorised cancel it as soon as possible.

If you want more advice and information regarding this or any issue concerned with Benefits, Work, Consumer Issues, Relationships, Housing, Law and Rights, Education, Discrimination, Tax and Healthcare, you can:

  • call 0344 848 7969 to speak to an assessor or make an appointment to talk to an adviser face-to face. (calls to this service cost the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers included as part of a mobile allowance or a landline call package.
  • visit https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/to access our comprehensive range of information and advice,
  • visit https://casws.org.uk/ to find out what’s happening at Citizens Advice Waverley
  • or follow us on Twitter @ Waverley CAB
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