Small print or big consequences

Opinion

Small print or big consequences

The Office of Fair Trading has warned businesses that consumer contracts must be clear and have no unwelcome surprises buried in the small print.

In a market study into consumer contracts, it found that one in five people had experienced a problem with such contracts in the last year, and the OFT has set out its framework for prioritising future enforcement in this area. 

The study examined when, how and why contracts may cause difficulties for people and identified the practices and contract terms which have the potential to cause people the greatest harm and which could breach consumer protection laws.

Harm can arise when a small print term alters the deal from what consumers understand it to be, or if the way the contract is presented makes it difficult for consumers to understand the deal properly, in effect hiding unfair terms in plain view. The OFT's research found that 80 per cent of these people who experienced a problem said that it came as a surprise.

Currently 70% of the OFT's consumer enforcement cases relate to contract terms and conditions and the OFT is urging businesses to consider whether their customer contracts contain terms that may be detrimental to consumers. 

This was first published in March 2011

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