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Consumer contracts: how to complain if they’re unclear

[20 Aug 2014] When a standard-form consumer contract is hard to understand, you’re entitled to complain because the law requires it to be in ‘plain, intelligible language’. This applies throughout the European Union. But where do you complain?

If it’s a UK financial services contract, the best place is the Financial Conduct Authority now that the Office of Fair Trading has been abolished. It’s easy enough: there’s information and a form to complete on the FCA website (see, eg, http://www.fca.org.uk/firms/being-regulated/unfair-contracts/faqs )

You won’t usually find out what the FCA has done about the matter, because it tends to keep this secret. That seems a pity: part of the satisfaction of complaining is knowing that you’ve helped in some small way to put the world to rights for other people. The FCA’s Q&A section gives plenty of useful information, though, and explains that if the terms (including the core terms such as price) are not plain and intelligible, ‘they will breach the Regulations and the interpretation that is most favourable to the consumer will prevail’.

If the contract is not for financial services, you’re sailing in murkier waters. A good first move is to write to the contract issuer and complain, giving detailed reasons. If that doesn’t succeed, you can contact the trading standards department for the issuer’s area, which will usually be part of the county council. These departments are running on very tight budgets, so whether they will do much more than write a letter to the issuer will partly depend on how unclear the contract is and how big a stink you make.

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