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Economy Economy

Make terms and conditions clearer

Last updated: 12:17pm 13 September 2019

We will act to make terms and conditions clearer…”
(also “We will oblige all digital companies to provide […] clearer terms and conditions when selling goods and services online… – p.78)

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.59

Our verdict

With increasing levels of internet use in the UK, the terms and conditions (T&Cs) of contracts for goods and services online are a growing cause of concern. BBC research found that of 15 popular websites, all had policies written at a university reading level, “more complicated than Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities”. That may be why one study found that only “one or two of every 1000 retail software shoppers access the license agreement”.

This policy is a promise to make terms and conditions clearer to “strengthen the hand of online consumers“.

Since the government came to power, the biggest change affecting digital purchases has undoubtedly been the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in the UK in May 2018 under the Data Protection Act 2018.

The GDPR contains clear stipulation that “clear and plain language be used”. This is definitely good news for consumers, but the GDPR is specifically about the use of personal data. A company’s Terms & Conditions, however, cover many other aspects of interacting with online retailers – such as copyright, how to close your account, or how to make a complaint. So while the GDPR goes some way to protecting consumers, it doesn’t really address this policy. It is also an EU law that was initially approved by the EU back in 2016 – therefore not something this government can take credit for.

One area in which T&Cs have changed is online gambling. In February 2018, following an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), changes were introduced requiring gambling firms to “be more upfront and clear in the terms and conditions of their bonus promotions”.

Also, from April 2018 to July 2019, the government conducted a green paper consultation on regulatory, competition and enforcement regimes. One of the questions was:

“Should terms and conditions in some sectors be required to reach a given level of comprehension, such as measured by online testing?”

Our assessment is that, because the new requirements for online gambling T&Cs was a result of an investigation into that sector, and not specifically about terms and conditions for all digital firms, it doesn’t constitute activity towards this promise. To consider this as ‘in progress’ we’d be looking for a consultation, policy proposal, or any activity that suggests a requirement for terms and conditions to be clearer across the board. On this basis, we consider this policy ‘not started’. Follow this policy for updates.

Further reading: make the details clearer

Related policies

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