Subscription traps

As part of National Consumer Week, the UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) is reminding consumers that buying health or beauty products online could pose a potential problem for some consumers.

National Consumer Week is an annual consumer education campaign run by the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP).

Subscription trap advice from Andy Allen

UK ECC service director, Andy Allen said:

“This is not a universal problem by any means – there are good health or beauty product companies supplying such products to consumers in an honest and above-board way under contracts which are fair – but we are still concerned.”

There might be more than P+P to pay

The UK ECC received 39 complaints in the first eight months of 2017 about ‘classic subscription traps’. A subscription is technically all one contract with multiple purchases.

Allen said:

“With these ‘classic subscription traps, on some websites consumers may be billed a monthly fee of something like £90. They are often unaware that this is a subscription as the initial price is misleading.”

These figures do not include what’s known as inertia selling. This is when products are sent to people who haven’t asked for them and then demanding payment.

The websites often state that the pills are free but that consumers need to pay P&P . So they have give their card details, thinking that they are only paying the P&P.

Allen said:

“In most of these cases the customer doesn’t realise what is happening until they notice continued payments disappearing from their bank accounts.

“Very few, if any companies, will offer you a trial of anything unless it is going to lead on to further purchases and this is often done by an automatic renewal system which places the responsibility on the customer to actively cancel an ongoing contract.”

Subscription traps can lead to a lot of post Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Subscription trap checklist

The UK ECC has issued a checklist for consumers if they have ordered samples or accepted an offer which has led to a subscription trap:

  • Do not use the product when it is delivered. Often the products are marketed as sample packages. But in the order it is called a welcome pack
  • Carefully read the terms and conditions and the order confirmation. Usually it is not until then you discover that the offer has led to a subscription. If it is not clear that the offer leads to a subscription, you may not be bound by the subscription
  • Check if you are bound by the order which imposes a claim on payment. You are only bound if the obligation has been clarified before ordering and you have explicitly assumed the obligation
  • Check if you can withdraw from the purchase. You have the right to a 14-day cooling-off period for distance purchases of goods within the EU. If you are not informed of your right of withdrawal, the withdrawal period is extended by 12 months. Look for information in the terms and conditions on how to end the subscription
  • Use your right of withdrawal. Send a withdrawal message to the trader by e-mail or regular mail.keeping a copy. If you send the message by regular mail, remember to ask the post office for a proof of posting receipt
  • Return the unused product. Make sure you get a shipment receipt. It may also be useful to make sure that the package is trackable. You must pay the return shipping charge
  • Demand to get a refund. You are entitled to demand a refund for the money you have paid for the product, including shipping. If you have paid by bank card, contact the card issuer and ask about doing a chargeback.

Consumer Contracts Regulations

People shopping online within Europe are protected by the Consumer Contracts Regulations. These came into force in June 2014.

They state that a consumer needs to actively ‘tick’ a box to say they agree to any further payments. If a consumer is not made aware of any further charges, they are not liable for them. Pre-ticked boxes are also banned.

The regulations also mean that consumers have a 14 calendar day cooling-off period. During this cooling-off a contract can be cancelled for any reason, including a change of mind.

Unless stated in the terms and conditions, consumers have to pay the return postage costs. The trader must then provide a refund within 14 days.

If you find yourself in a position where you have ongoing payments being taken from your account, contact the UK European Consumer Centre for advice on 01268 88660 – weekdays between 9am and 5pm.