Don’t repent at leisure if you sign up in haste

Gym's offer tempting deals
Gym's offer tempting deals
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We all make spur of the moment decisions. Some people are just naturally enthusiastic and jump right into something new without thinking through the consequences. Others are cautious by nature, but feel they should be more impulsive.

Flinging yourself into something new – from a crazy adventure to buying something on spec – is exhilarating. But as they say, you pays your money, you takes your choice. And that’s the thing about taking a chance: sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

If you managed to make it through the budget the other week, you may have caught a reference to something called a “subscription trap”. This is where you sign up to a deal like a gym membership or an annual contract, or you take up a “three months free” offer that charges you when the offer ends. Not all of these deals are cons – and most of us have some form of subscription.

But subscription traps are much more frustrating when they happen. Most people get caught out by a free trial, then find their accounts are debited each month and they can’t stop the payments. I’ve seen cases where people have bought a sampler of face cream, only to find they’re being debited hundreds of pounds each month for overpriced rubbish. And when they try to contact the business, it’s often abroad or they make it hard to get in touch (until you refuse to pay).

The Chancellor has announced that these rip-off businesses will be fined in future. I’m all for anything that strengthens consumer rights – but did you know that you already have lots of powers when it comes to subscriptions traps?

Here are some tips if you find yourself trapped by a dodgy business that’s debiting your account.

Before you sign up to a free deal, run a few simple checks. If the business isn’t based in the UK, think twice. It can be much harder to get out of a contract – and your rights aren’t as strong in other places around the world.

Read the small print. We know it’s a pain, but do you need 18 pages of text for a free trial? That’s a warning in itself. If it’s a phone salesperson, get them to email you the full details of the offer.

Check the “contact us” details. If the business makes it hard for you to speak to a person direct, be wary.

If you’re being debited and you didn’t want the payments to happen or wanted to cancel the deal, it makes sense to instruct the business that you don’t want their goods or services. Do it in writing and keep a copy of your letter or email.

Speak to your bank. Subscription traps use “continuous payment authorities”, a kind of flexible direct debit from your account or credit card. The law says your bank has to cancel these payments the moment you tell them to. If they don’t, Resolver can help.

If you’re in a dispute with the business because they say you’ve signed a contract. Ask for proof (that includes calls). If they can’t prove you’ve agreed to a year’s worth of payments then they can’t enforce it. And if it all gets too much, Resolver will do our best to help you.

Taking a chance here and there makes life fun – so keep doing it. But if things go wrong, seek help as soon as you can.

If you’ve got a problem with a troublesome transfer, check out our guide at or tell us about your experiences through our Facebook and Twitter pages. @WalkerResolver @resolvercouk