Plain Language Commission . Clear English Standard


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News & views

OFT (Office of Flatulent Tripe) fails to act on unclear contracts

[20 March 2012] Elect lawmakers to parliament and they write lots of laws. From 1992 to 2005, some 39,000 pages of new primary law and 133,000 pages of secondary law (regulations) were passed. At an average of 12,200 pages a year, that’s an awful lot of law (and sometimes a lot of awful law) for the nation to digest.

But a very good law is the one that requires standard-form consumer contracts to be written in ‘plain, intelligible language’ (Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999). Consumer groups across Europe worked very hard to put it on the books.

But just try getting it enforced nowadays. We recently asked the Office of Fair Trading (click here) to investigate the consumer contracts used by Excel Parking Services Ltd on its car-park signs, which are confusing, nonsensical, ungrammatical, misspelt, illegible to typical drivers, and full of the sort of words and phrases, like ‘evidential purposes’ and ‘aforementioned parties’, that the OFT used to condemn.

Not any more, though. Despite the huge growth of private parking penalties (currently running at about two million a year, with each charge averaging about £80), the OFT has ruled that it can’t be bothered to do anything to examine the language used by Excel, one of the biggest players in the field.

Instead, it’s sent our complaint to Excel’s home authority, Sheffield Council Trading Standards, which – we confidently predict – will do what it’s been doing about complaints against Excel for the last decade (absolutely nothing).

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