According to a survey by Fairer Finance*, the small print for some companies now runs to more than 35,000 words, that’s the length of a short novel!
Therefore, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the survey found that 73% of people admit to not reading all of the fine print when they sign up to new websites, apps and services. Of those who do, only 17% say they understand it.
By ignoring the terms and conditions and automatically clicking accept, many important pieces of information could be missed, which Gamestation sought to prove with this April Fools prank.
In 2010, Gamestation added an ‘Immortal Souls’ clause to the terms and conditions, legally awarding itself the ‘souls’ of customers who bought from it. In the end, over 7,500 unknowingly sold their souls as a result. Of course this was just a joke but it highlights the perils of skipping terms and conditions without actually reading them during a sign-up process.
It’s not just the length of terms and conditions that makes it so tempting to skip reading them and just click the accept button, they can also be very confusing. According to the Money Advice Service, misunderstanding terms and conditions cost the UK population £21 billion last year.** One of the common reasons people get confused with T+C’s is the financial terminology and jargon they’re often peppered with, which is why MAS have made this financial jargon quiz. Why not test your knowledge?
Terms and conditions are rarely an exciting read but taking the time to understand what you are agreeing to might save you problems in the future and in regards to the Gamestation example, it might even save your soul.
What if you’ve come across unfair terms in your contract?
If you have read the small print and have any queries about some of the terms included, you do have the right to challenge them provided they are unfair.
In general, companies are free to use whatever terms and conditions they wish, as long as they are deemed reasonable by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (UTCCRs). These regulations also state the consumer is not bound by a standard term with a seller or supplier if that term is judged to be unfair by a court.
Examples of unfair terms could be excessive cancellations fees, changing the goods or service or changing the price of the product after the contract has been signed.
You can report any unreasonable contract terms to your local trading standards department, or the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) using this form. They can then investigate and ultimately force a company to change its terms.
*Fairer Finance survey – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27109000