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Consumer law: Not reading contractual terms and conditions causes problems for a fifth of Britons

When signing up for online products and services, 93% of Brits never bother to read the terms and conditions that set out their contractual rights, a recent survey revealed.

The investment specialist Skandia conducted the survey to prove just how easy it is for consumers to sign up for products and services online without really knowing what their consumer rights are.

The main reason given, by 43% of people surveyed, for not reading terms and conditions was that they were boring and difficult to understand. So it is hardly surprising that nearly six in ten (58%) people claimed that an instruction manual or utility bill would be more interesting to read and more than one in ten (12%) people said they would rather read the phone book than terms and conditions.

But by skimming over or not reading these terms of trade you could be setting yourself up for a fall. Companies are legally obliged to clearly point out their terms and conditions to consumers and by clicking on that check box, you are telling them that you agree to whatever they might have written in the contract.

Joanne Lezemore, a senior lawyer at Which? Legal Service, said: "It is really important you understand everything before you sign on the dotted line, as you could find yourself landed with extra fees or charges."

The survey revealed that over a fifth (21%) of people had suffered through not reading the terms and conditions before signing up for something online. One in ten of those people wound up tied into a much longer contract than they had expected and one in 20 actually lost money after they were unable to cancel or change bookings with hotels and holidays.

Another reason why you should carefully read through all the terms and conditions is to protect yourself from exclusion clauses. A company may include exclusion clauses in order to exclude certain liabilities, such as paying postage on returned items, from the contract.

While consumers may contest contracts under the Unfair Contract Terms Act, this does not apply when the consumer simply failed to read the terms. So whenever faced with terms and conditions in the future, always read everything before clicking the check box.

Related links:

Read more on the story (Guardian)
Read more about terms and conditions (FindLaw)
Find local solicitors who can help with consumer law throughout the UK (FindLaw)