Government aims to review and crack down on small print in contracts

Complicated and extensive Terms and Conditions that customers (whether businesses or consumers) face, or  choose to ignore, are to be reviewed by the Government, Business Secretary Sajid Javid announced today (March 1).

In September 2015, consumer rights group 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. 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 “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 said: “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 and businesses 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.

 “In order to kick off the process, those with views are asked to respond to our straightforward call for evidence.”

 Which? Executive Director, Richard Lloyd, said: “We 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.

The Call for Evidence will be available on gov.uk from today.

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