Citizens Advice warns consumers subscriptions 'can be difficult to get out of'

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Some consumers are struggling to get out of unwanted subscriptions such as gym memberships and TV and online streaming services, according to evidence seen by Citizens Advice.

Its analysis of 586 related problems reported to its service found that over just three months consumers paid an average of £160 towards unwanted subscriptions.

Citizens Advice is warning consumers that while it may be easy to sign up for these services, they can be difficult to get out of.

Its analysis of these cases, reported to it between June and August, found that around nine in 10 people were initially refused by the company when they tried to cancel their subscription.

As part of National Consumer Week, Citizens Advice and the Consumer Protection Partnership are urging consumers to be aware of the terms and conditions of any contract before agreeing to recurring payments and companies to act responsibly when customers want to end their services. 

Companies refused cancellations by asking for more notice - stretching to six months in some cases - or told people they needed to cancel through a specific route, such as phone or email.

One person who contacted the Citizens Advice consumer service said they tried to cancel a subscription after they were made redundant at work only to be asked for proof from their employer - including a P45.

Citizens Advice said that under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, businesses cannot enforce terms on consumers that are unfair.

Consumers told the Citizens Advice consumer service they felt it was unclear they were being signed up to a recurring payment in the first place or that the contract may continue on an auto renewal basis.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "Subscriptions are very easy to sign up to but can be difficult for consumers to get out of.

"We know people are wasting time and energy trying to cancel subscriptions while paying out of pocket.

"As part of National Consumer Week, we want to make sure consumers are aware of the terms and conditions of any subscription before they sign up and companies act responsibly when customers want to end their services."

Consumer minister Margot James said: "With 40 million people in the UK now subscribing to at least one product or service, this campaign from Citizens Advice will help ensure consumers can shop with confidence and know what their rights are should things go wrong."

Here are some "need to know" tips about subscriptions from Citizens Advice:

1. Check what your cancellation rights are. Each supplier can set their own cancellation policy and they do not need to offer you a right to cancel your subscription early. Make sure the terms and conditions look reasonable before signing up.
2. If you bought the 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.
3. Make sure you follow the cancellation policy set out in your contract when you are ready to end your subscription. Do not stop your payment without checking what else is required first - otherwise your subscription may not be cancelled and you could be liable for any missed payments.
4. There is not a strict definition for what counts as an unfair policy. But if you are finding it tough or have to give a long period of notice to cancel a subscription, contact the supplier's customer services department. If this fails, go to the supplier's trade or complaints body or report to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service.


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