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How ‘free’ is this trial? Tips for avoiding unexpected charges

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Consumer protection

phone in hand with finger clicking on free trial sign up button. Text: 'Signing up to more than you expected?'

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) are reminding people to take care when signing up to ‘free’ trials. Here are some top tips to help you avoid unwanted and unexpected charges which could cost a lot of money.

In these challenging times with many of us staying at home, some businesses are offering ‘free’ trials of their products or services.  These can be very tempting when so many of us have more time on our hands or are trying to juggle our work while also attempting to fill our children’s time.  But there can be problems if we later find out we have signed up to more than we bargained for.  These top tips tell you some of the things to look out for.

Ask yourself:

  • What am I agreeing to in order to claim this offer?
  • Do I have to provide my payment details? If yes – stop and ask why.
  • Is the trial really ‘free’? Or could I have money taken from my bank account or card?
  • If there can be a charge, how much it is and when the payment will be taken?
  • What exactly will I get in exchange for that charge?
  • Is this something I would be happy to pay for in future?
  • What must I do to stop the payment and by when?
  • If I do get charged, what does the company say about giving me my money back?
  • If I do get charged and do nothing, what happens next? Might the company take more payments in the future?

magnifying glass held over small print on laptop screen

Look carefully at the wording of the ad and always check the terms and conditions to make sure you fully understand the extent and nature of an offer. If you’re not sure about any part of the deal, you can always contact the company and ask them to explain.

If you think an offer is misleading, it’s better to be careful  and contact the ASA before signing up to something  that could leave you out of pocket. The ASA considers ads to be misleading if they do not, for example, prominently and clearly state the extent of any commitment required to take advantage of an offer.

If you think you may not want to pay to continue after the trial period, it’s a good idea to set yourself a reminder to cancel, perhaps using your phone.   Remember that to avoid paying you might need to take the relevant cancellation steps before the end of the trial period – be certain you know when you will be charged.  Check the terms of the offer and make sure your reminder to cancel gives you enough time.

phone with calendar and clock image

If you have inadvertently signed up to a paid contract by mistake after a ‘free’ trial, complain to the company concerned.  If you see a charge on your bank/payment card statement you didn’t expect you can also contact your bank or card issuer for help.

You can also seek advice from the Citizens Advice consumer helpline (England and Wales), Advice Direct Scotland (Scotland) or Consumerline (Northern Ireland).

Or if you think you were misled by the ad, bring your complaint to the ASA.

You may be able to bring your own legal action against the trader if you are not satisfied with the outcome.

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