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Equalities and Rights Equalities and Rights

End the abusive use of subscription services

Last updated: 12:15pm 13 September 2019

We will […] end the abusive use of subscription services, including by making it clearer when free trials come to an end.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.59

Our verdict

With increasing levels of internet use in the UK, growing numbers of people are turning to online subscriptions to pay for goods and services. A 2016 study published in the Economic Journal of the Royal Economic Society found that:

“cancelling subscriptions by default increased cancellations to 99.8%, 63.4 percentage points more than requiring active cancellation.”

But despite official advice on fair terms, many businesses continue to use subscription models that make it harder than necessary to cancel a subscription, particularly following an initial free trial period.

This policy is a promise to put an end to such unscrupulous business practices.

On 11 April 2018, the government published a green paper, Modernising Consumer Markets, which launched a consultation on UK regulatory, competition and enforcement regimes. The section of the green paper addressing subscriptions acknowledges existing problems and says the Consumer Protection Partnership has been asked:

“to assess the outcomes of work to date and to recommend any further actions needed to prevent consumers being charged unexpectedly, to make it easier for consumers to cancel unwanted subscriptions (including free trial subscriptions)…”

The consultation ended on 4 July 2018 and the feedback is currently being analysed.

Ofcom has also undertaken two recent consultations related to this policy. The first ran from July to October 2018, and the second is scheduled from 14 December 2018 to 1 February 2019, looking at:

“end-of-contract notifications, which will also tell customers about the best tariffs available”.

So it seems probable that this policy will be ‘done’ once Ofcom enact their proposals, but for now it is ‘in progress’. Follow this policy to keep up with developments.

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