Clampdown on T&Cs that are longer than Shakespeare’s Hamlet

1st March 2016


The Business Secretary today opens consultation to tackle overly lengthy, confusing or misleading terms & conditions when customers buy all kinds of products and services.

Sajid Javid announced the Government will be looking at ways in which T&Cs can be made more user-friendly and considering proposals to introduce fines for unfair terms.

In September 2015, Which? carried out research that looked at the terms and conditions for car and travel insurance. Some of the longest were over 38,000 words, longer than Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

It found that nine in ten (90%) people have agreed to terms and conditions when buying a product or service online in the last year, but only 16% say they always read them.

The most common reason people give for not reading is is that they are too long (65%), while four in ten (38%) say it’s too hard to find the important pieces of information and a third (33%) think they’re too confusing.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is asking consumers who have experienced issues when consulting their terms and conditions to respond to the Call for Evidence.

In addition to this, the government hopes to support consumers by reducing the risk of any ‘nasty surprises’ hidden within opaque or lengthy T&Cs. This could include being tied into long contracts or facing demands for the payment of unexpected fees.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid says: “It seems like everything we buy these days comes with the line ‘Terms and Conditions apply’. “Whether it’s a train ticket, car insurance or downloading an app, we are faced with pages of small print that is difficult to navigate through.

“If terms and conditions were clearer, and easier to navigate consumers would be able to easily consult them and make better informed choices before buying a product.

“It would make similar products easier to compare, increasing competition which could inevitably drive prices down for consumers.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, says: “Consumers shouldn’t have to read endless pages of baffling jargon just to ensure there are no nasty surprises hidden away in the terms and conditions.

We will be working with industry and the government to test how T&Cs are presented, particularly online and on mobile devices, to help ensure they work better for consumers.

“As part of the Call for Evidence the government is also seeking views on the creation of a power to apply civil fines to businesses who do not comply with consumer protection rules in this area.

“The power to fine non-compliant businesses would deter future breaches and strengthen fair competition.”

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