How many times have you downloaded a new app or connected to free Wi-Fi and agreed to the terms and conditions without giving them a second glance? In your rush to gain access to the must-have service you may end up regretting what you’ve agreed to.
Of course, most companies who come up with absurd terms and conditions have no intention of enforcing them. Rather, the intent is to highlight the fact that most people don’t read the agreements they readily sign up to. In many cases that won’t have any significant consequences. Most businesses seek to be fair in their dealings with customers. However, in the case of legal and financial contracts, failure to read and understand the terms and conditions can prove costly.
What to look out for
When signing up for anything that will cost you money or expose you to other potential harm, it is important to read and understand everything you are agreeing to. Here are 10 key items to look out for:
- Is the contract in plain English? It should be. Too much legal jargon may be a warning that the provider is trying to hide something.
- What are the costs involved and when and how are payments to be made?
- What other charges apply, for example, late fees? Are they fair and reasonable?
- What is the term of the contract? Is it ongoing or a fixed length? What happens at the end of the contract? Will there be ongoing costs?
- When and how can you terminate the contract? What will it cost?
- When and why can the provider terminate the contract?
- Are refunds available? For example, if you cancel an insurance policy will the unused premium be returned to you?
- What personal information do you need to provide? Is it reasonable? How is it safeguarded? Will it be shared or sold to a third party? Is sharing your personal information necessary for the provider to deliver their service?
- Are liability disclaimers reasonable?
- Can you complain? Who to?
What protections are there?
For a contract to be binding a number of rules apply.
For example, those entering into a contract must intend for it to be binding. That should probably allow you to leave the toilet brush and rubber gloves at home. Nor can a contract be enforced if it contains an agreement to do illegal things or breach other legal requirements.
In consumer contracts there are also protections against unfair contract terms that disadvantage a consumer. Further rules apply to credit contracts.
As for the liability waivers that are common when signing up for an adventure activity, if you are injured while undertaking the activity you may still be able to sue the operator. This is an area where expert legal advice is required.
Even in plain English, terms and conditions make for pretty dull reading and they may still be difficult to understand. If you are unclear about what you are signing up to, don’t sign. Seek clarification from the contract provider. And if significant sums of money are involved or if it’s a credit contract, obtain qualified advice.