Watch out for Subscription Traps

Have you ever queried an item of expenditure on your credit card account only to find that it was for the renewal of a subscription you hadn’t realised you had signed up for?  You may have been the unwitting victim of a subscription trap.

This is one of a number of ways you could end up paying for unwanted subscriptions for things like gym memberships, television, insurance as well as other online services.  While it may be easy to sign up for these services, it can be quite difficult to cancel them – regardless of how reputable you think the service provider might be.

An analysis of cases reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service between June and August 2017, shows 9 out of 10 people having their requests to cancel a subscription initially refused.  Many consumers found that without realising it they had agreed to a Continuous Payment Authority, which gives companies the ability to change the date or amount of a payment without giving advanced notice.

As part of National Consumer week Citizens Advice and the Consumer Protection Partnership have been,

  • urging consumers to be aware of the terms and conditions of any contract which might involve recurring payments and
  • calling on providers of goods and services to act responsibly when customers want to cancel subscriptions.

So, what are your rights when it comes to subscriptions? Well in general, under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, businesses can’t enforce terms on consumers that are unfair.  If you are considering buying a subscription:

i) Check what your cancellation rights are.  Each supplier can set their own cancellation policy and they don’t need to offer you a right to cancel your subscription early. Make sure the terms and conditions look reasonable before signing up.

ii) Follow the cancellation policy.  Make sure you follow the cancellation policy set out in your contract when you’re ready to end your subscription. Don’t stop your payment without checking what else is required first – otherwise your subscription may not be cancelled and you could still be liable for any missed payments.

iii) Remember you’ve got a cooling off period if you buy online.  If you buy a subscription online, the law says you usually have 14 days to get your money back if you change your mind. However, you might not be able to get a refund if you start using the service straight away.

iv) Challenge unfair Terms & Conditions.  There are no strict definitions for what counts as an unfair policy.  If you are finding it tough to cancel a subscription (for example if you are having to give a long period of notice), contact the supplier’s customer services department. If this fails go to the supplier’s trade or complaints body or report the matter to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline on 0845 404 0506.

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