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Know what you are signing?

Consumers need to know what they are signing up for so they can effectively cancel services and not be out of pocket

New analysis shows that in three months consumers paid an average of £160 towards unwanted subscriptions like gym memberships, television, insurance and online streaming services.

With the rise of subscription services available to consumers – where people can have anything from groceries to beauty products delivered monthly – Citizens Advice is warning consumers that while it may be easy to sign up, it can be difficult to get out of.

An analysis of cases to the Citizens Advice consumer service shows 9 in 10 people were initially refused by the company when they tried to cancel their subscription. People are tying themselves into contracts for subscriptions and are struggling to deal with the company’s terms and conditions to cancel, all the while paying out of pocket.

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 telling people they needed to cancel through a specific route, such as phone or email.

Most payments are thought to be through a Continuous Payment Authority, where companies have the ability to change the date or amount of a payment without giving advanced notice.

Consumers told the 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.

One person said they felt “tricked” into signing up to a free trial of Amazon Prime, found it very difficult to cancel and contacted Citizens Advice consumer service for help.

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.”

During National Consumer Week, Citizens Advice is warning about the importance of making sure you read the terms and conditions before signing up to a contract, and is sharing tips on how people can complete a subscription cancellation if they run into difficulty.

Need to know tips about subscriptions

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.

Remember you’ve got a cooling off period if you buy online

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.

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 be liable for any missed payments.

Challenge unfair T&Cs

There are no strict definitions for what counts as an unfair policy. But if you’re 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.