Customers' rights to challenge unfair contract terms
Customers have legal protection against businesses using unfair small print.
The Consumer Rights Act prohibits the use of some terms and limits the use of others. In practice this means:
- You must not include in a contract or notice terms which try to exclude or limit liability for death or personal injury resulting from negligence.
- If you use terms excluding or restricting liability for other loss or damage resulting from negligence, they must be reasonable.
- You cannot use standard terms in contracts restricting or excluding liability for breach of contract, providing an inadequate service, or providing goods that have been misdescribed, are not of satisfactory quality or are not fit for their purpose. This is the case unless such a term is reasonable, although exceptions exist, for example when selling or hiring goods to consumers such a term cannot be used.
Unreasonable terms can be challenged. For example, a customer might object to a notice displayed in a restaurant that 'any damage to possessions or injury caused on the premises is not the owner's responsibility'. It would be for a court to decide whether this was fair and reasonable.
The Consumer Rights Act provides additional protection for consumers only. These state that any contract term other than a core term - that is a term dealing with the price or describing the goods or services concerned - must be in clear understandable language and must not be unfair.
If a consumer believes your contract contains an unfair term they can complain to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) or to one of several consumer-related organisations that can act against unfair consumer contracts. Such a complaint may lead to court action.
The Competition and Markets Authority have produced a video on top tips for writing contract terms:
Trading Standards Service Northern Ireland0300 123 6262