Small Print Hides A Multitude of Sins

I am a customer of a major Scottish bank. I logged on recently to its online service and was told that the terms and conditions had been changed and that I had to “accept” new conditions if I wanted to proceed.  I scrolled down pages of turgid text before finding “accept”. As a lawyer I thought “I should read this”: as a member of the human race I thought “I just want to see my balance, just click “accept”. Human nature prevailed.

All of us at some point will have signed up to a bank account or credit card or booked flights online and I am sure that many people do not read the small print. However, when clicking “accept” you are agreeing a contract on exactly those terms with the company. Granted it is rarely feasible to read the terms and conditions at the moment of agreeing to them and it is rarer still to have any negotiating power to change the conditions. The consumer protection industry recognizes this and there is legislation in place to ensure that even contracts which have not been drafted or negotiated between both parties must still be “fair”.

However it is precisely the power and activity of the consumer protection industry  which has brought about the prevalence of terms and conditions ,no doubt  with the laudable aim of enabling the purchaser of a product or service to know in advance what he is getting. But, in practice  providers of goods and services have seized the opportunity to include disclaimers for every kind of incompetence they are capable of perpetuating and to sneak into such agreements a host of hidden charges.

With this is mind I would urge that a level of caution be applied to small print.  In an article he wrote some years ago our Chairman described the ignoring of small print as “Voluntary Consumer Blindness” (VCB). We chose not to “see” the small print and by introducing certain unfavourable terms and conditions many companies are hoping VCB will prevail.  VCB may save  the mind -numbing boredom of analysing the terms and conditions but you may also be paving the way for a company to claim extra monies from you.

So when opening a bank account please check out the charges, make sure terms which are being offered are set out in writing , look at notice periods and check that any trivial breach does not change all the rates and charges.  When booking flights on line check costs for additional baggage, charges for losing boarding passes and any compensation due for late or cancelled flights.

If I can advise you regarding the terms and conditions of any contract you may be involved in please call Paul Neilly on 0141 552 3422 or email me on pdn@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

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About Paul Neilly

Paul’s first degree was a BA Honours in Financial Services following which he spent five years working for a large insurance company as a pensions specialist. He then completed his law degree at the University of Strathclyde and Diploma in Legal Practice at the Glasgow Graduate School of Law. Paul subsequently joined Mitchells Roberton as a trainee in July 2006 and qualified as a solicitor in September 2008. Principally concerned with civil litigation, Paul specialises in contract disputes, landlord and tenant issues (commercial and residential), debt recovery, family law, employment law and personal injury claims. He also handles cases involving Adults with Incapacity. Paul regularly appears in the Sheriff Courts throughout Scotland and has experience of appearing before Licensing Boards and instructing matters in the Court of Session. Being a general civil litigator Paul is keenly aware of the need to keep step with developments in the law and legal education. This led Paul to join the committee of TANQ, the Trainee and Newly Qualified Society of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow, in which role Paul currently organises seminars and networking events for its members. Paul is married with a young son and daughter. In his spare time he enjoys cooking, reading and watching sport, particularly following the exploits of the national football and rugby teams, although this is more of a vocation than a source of enjoyment.

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