Author Felicity Anderson

Subscribing to a gym membership or online music streaming service might seem straightforward at the time, but Citizens Advice has warned that once signed up, many of these subscription services are difficult to break free from.

After analysing nearly 600 problems reported to them over three months from June to August 2017, they found that “consumers paid an average of £160 on unwanted services,” reports the BBC.

They further found that 90 percent of the people questioned were initially refused when they initially tried to cancel their subscription services, according to The Telegraph.

Services that customers signed up for included gym memberships, television, insurance and online streaming services.

It was found that while easy to sign up to, they were much more difficult to get out of, with many consumers facing complex cancellation processes and sometimes having their requests to cancel refused.

Citizens Advice has now urged consumers to familiarise themselves with the terms and conditions of any contract before signing up and unknowingly agreeing to recurring payments, such as Continuous Payment Authority.

Checking for Continuous Payment Authority

The BBC reports that most payments for these services are through a Continuous Payment Authority, which is where companies can change the date or amount of a payment without giving advance notice.

The news site states that “frequently, consumers said they felt it was unclear they were being signed up to a recurring payment or that the contract may continue on an auto-renewal basis.”

Refusing cancellation requests

Many consumers were refused when they tried to cancel their subscriptions and were asked for notice, sometimes of up to six months.

In other instances, customers were presented with a complex cancellation process and were told that they could cancel only by phone or email, despite initially signing up for the service quickly and easily.

The BBC has reported on one case where a person attempted to cancel a subscription after being made redundant and was asked by the service provider for evidence supporting their claim, including proof from their employer, such as a P45.

The head of the consumer group, Gillian Guy, said firms must “act responsibly”.

 “Subscriptions are very easy to sign up to but can be difficult for consumers to get out of. We know people are wasting time and energy trying to cancel subscriptions while paying out of pocket,” Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice told the BBC.

Consumer Minister Margot James told The Independent:

“With 40 million people in the UK now subscribing to at least one product or service, this campaign from Citizens Advice will help ensure consumers can shop with confidence and know what their rights are should things go wrong.”

What to check before signing up for subscription services

Citizens Advice has issued tips to consumers thinking about signing up for a subscription:

  • Always check your cancellation rights
  • Be aware that there is a cooling off period for purchase online, usually 14 days
  • Follow the cancellation policy, or you could be liable for missed payments
  • Challenge unfair terms & conditions with the firm or its trade body
  • If this fails, go to Trading Standards and/or Citizens Advice
  • Include membership numbers of streaming services