Although companies are legally required to list terms and conditions when a customer buys something, they can often be confusing or outright misleading. ISPs and mobile operators are especially guilty of this and a lot of the time consumers ignore them completely. The UK government has decided now is the time to act, so it's launched a new consultation to make things simpler for consumers and possibly fine online companies that don't comply.
In a statement, Nick Boles, the Minister of State for Skills, helped outline key areas will help consumers understand what they need to know. The most notable suggestion is that companies provide the "true monthly contract costs" when trying to sell a mobile or broadband plan. The ASA has already told internet providers that they must feature clearer pricing in their adverts, but the government believes ISPs and mobile carriers should highlight "the average monthly cost as well as the total charge" to help customers identify which contract is best for them.
The government may also require companies to present all of their key terms "bold and upfront." Online retailers would need to format small print so it is easily readable on a smartphone screen and possibly force customers to read their T&Cs by displaying them before they complete their purchase.
What about those confusing "Click here if you DO want to receive email updates" tickboxes? The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills wants to outlaw them too: "We think that firms should be consistent in their use of tick boxes and a tick should always mean, yes I want this option to apply to me."
Ministers also suggest that consumers could be rewarded for reading the terms and conditions. Retailers could provide discounts for customers who confirm they've read the small print. It may also provide an easy way for companies to clarify how they use the personal data supplied to them, which might include whether they share information with other organizations.
Currently, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills is inviting consumers to share their experiences, which could result in a change in the law. Those new powers could also include the ability to apply civil fines to firms that don't adhere to new consumer protections, encouraging them to clearly state their terms and stimulate competition in the process.