A growing number of UK consumers are being caught in “subscription traps” — recurring weekly or monthly subscription payments that are difficult to cancel.
Data from Citizens Advice shows that the average person spends £50 per month on recurring services because of difficulties in cancelling. Gym memberships and online streaming services are among the most common recurring costs for UK consumers.
Among the complaints received from Citizens Advice is one from a person that attempted to cancel a recurring subscription after losing their job, only to be asked to provide written proof from their employer in order to terminate the contract.
Others include consumers that spent hundreds of pounds over the course of years, often for products and services they weren’t aware of.
In total, more than 600 problems have been reported to Citizens Advice over the past three months, specifically related to subscription payments. On average, customers spent £160 on subscription services — often services they did not want, need or frequently use.
Of these customers, more than 90% faced difficulties when trying to end their subscriptions, often in the form of overly difficult cancellation processes that required consumers to cancel over email or by phone.
Many of these subscriptions use free samples to lure customers in, only to charge consumers large amounts of money over the long term. A recent article in the Mirror states that many UK consumers face payments of up to £90 a month after requesting “free” samples online.
Andy Allen, service director of the UK European Consumer Centre, states that consumers are often “hooked by an advert places, for example, on social media for a free trial’.” The adverts typically advertise free samples of diet pills, teeth whitening devices or skin creams.
Most of these free trials request a small fee from consumers — often £1.99 or less — for postage and handling costs.
Hidden deep in the terms and conditions, however, is a complicated billing system that states consumers can be charged as much as £90 per month for products they never wanted due to deceptive “free trials.”
Citizens Advice has noted cases where people spent almost £1,000 in total before realising that they were being billed, all for “free” samples. One consumer spent more than £350 for a beauty product sample advertised as costing £4.95.
Many of the most common “free trial” scams and subscription traps can be avoided through a combination of research and skepticism towards offers that seem too good to be true.
Citizens Advice recommends that consumers avoid offers that look and feel too good to be real, such as heavily discounted or free trials. If a free trial is offered, check that there aren’t hidden fees buried deep inside the terms and conditions that could end up increasing the cost.
Consumers are also recommended to avoid purchasing free trial items from companies based outside the UK, as these contracts can be much harder to end. In cases of obvious fraud, your card issuer may be able to return your money via a chargeback.