Hidden costs a thing of the past?

hidden costs

hidden costsConsumers like us may soon get protection from unfair terms, such as hidden costs, under new proposals put forward by the Law Commission.

It said fierce competition, often fuelled by price comparison websites, could be driving some traders to hide their full costs in the small print.

Charges which come out of the blue can be a big blow to family budgets, taking a significant chunk out of your monthly spending power.

The commissions are seeking views on plans to protect customers from unexpected charges and require terms to be written in plain and legible language in contracts for services ranging from utilities and financial services to mobile phones and gyms.

Currently, all details in consumer contracts may be challenged for fairness unless they are specifically exempt under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

Under the new proposals, terms relating to the price or the main subject of the contract would be exempt from challenge only if they are transparent and prominent.

Read the small print

A lot of us tend to not read contracts thoroughly before they signing them, just focussing on what appears to be the cost. By the time we realise it is often too late to do anything about it.

Make sure you double check everything on a contract, especially the small print, to avoid getting stung by hidden costs.

"We believe that it should be made clear to consumers what they are committing themselves to before they sign a contract," said Law Commission spokesman David Hertzell.

"If they are taking out a loan, for example, they should know up front exactly what it is going to cost them. If they are signing up for a mobile phone or gym membership, it should be clear from the start what the service will cost and how long the contract will run for."

Scottish Law Commissioner Professor Hector MacQueen said the proposals have been in the pipeline since 2005, with recommendations for change accepted in principle by the government of the time.

He added: "This consultation is an opportunity for us to make sure that our original recommendations for the reform of consumer contracts are still workable and relevant, and tackle the uncertainty that has arisen over the exemption for the main subject matter and price."