Crackdown on subscription traps to be outlined by Chancellor

Plans to sweep away confusing small print and end the cycle of subscription traps will be set out by the Government in next week's Budget.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Philip Hammond will outline a crackdown on practices by firms which lead to people wasting their money.

He will use the Budget to highlight details of the upcoming consumer green paper, which will look at ways to shorten and simplify small print and cut down on people being hit with unexpected automatic fees for services they do not need.

The moves follow concerns that many people only "skim read" lengthy terms and conditions and some may fall into a subscription trap by signing up for a paid-for service without meaning to - for example, when a paid subscription starts automatically after a free trial has ended.

Citizens Advice estimates that two million consumers each year have problems cancelling subscriptions.

Research last year revealed that more than two-fifths (42%) of Britons are paying for at least one subscription they do not use, such as gym memberships, credit reports, TV streaming services and music streaming plans.

To tackle this, the Government plans to develop options to stop people paying unexpected automatic fees for unwanted subscriptions, including ensuring consumers are alerted in good time when a payment is about to be taken.

Ways of making small print shorter and clearer to customers will also be examined. Terms and conditions can often be tens of thousands of words long.

Which? found that nine in 10 people have agreed to terms and conditions when buying a product or service online in the last year, but only 16% always read them.

The Government plans to look at the standard usage of tick boxes and improve understanding of which terms cause particular confusion in its efforts to simplify small print.

There will also be new powers to impose fines on companies that mistreat customers.

The Government will allow consumer enforcement bodies such as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to ask civil courts to order fines against companies, including those in unregulated markets, which breach consumer law.

It believes this will enable stronger action to end unfair behaviour and act as a deterrent to discourage firms from mistreating consumers.

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