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Half a billion spent on auto-renewed subscriptions – here’s how to escape

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Half a billion pounds was spent on subscriptions that auto-renewed in the last year without the bill-payer being aware. And in a cost-of-living crisis those fees can mount up fast.

More than 80% of people with an unused subscription reported that it had auto-renewed, according to the charity Citizens Advice.

Such spending can be a huge issue during the current cost-of-living crisis, it said: two thirds (66%) of people currently paying for unused subscriptions have also had to cut back on essentials during the past six months.

The organization is calling for a ban on contracts that roll over without a customer being required to first give their consent and said that 80% of people in the UK would support such a ban.

Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “With budgets increasingly squeezed and everyday living costs spiraling, it’s vital consumers feel in control of their spending. But many are currently feeling trapped in unused or unwanted subscriptions that can be difficult to break free of.

“Whilst the government’s plans to tackle subscription traps are a positive first step, they don’t go far enough.”

Brits spend £300m a year on unused subscriptions

Subscriptions such as television streaming, food/drink deliveries and even beauty products are a growing market, with 73% of Britons signing up for at least one. But the country spent more than £300m a year on subscriptions that aren’t used, most of which had auto-renewed, Citizens Advice said.

Citizens Advice said that people can be lured in by the offer of a free trial, but then forget to cancel. Other offers are less than clear, the group said, about future costs and potential exit fees.

Perhaps shockingly, almost half (46%) of people with mental health problems had signed up to a subscription by accident, the charity said, and that 45% of people on Universal Credit had signed up to one accidentally.

It can also be difficult to cancel. Often you can sign up with just one click, but then can’t find a way to cancel online.

Five ways to beat the auto-renewal trap

Citizens Advice recommends five steps to untangle unwanted subscriptions:

  1. Make sure you know what you are getting for your money, what the total cost will be and how long you are committing to pay for it.
  2. Make sure there are no pre-ticked boxes for any payments.
  3. Set yourself a reminder one week before the free trial period is to end to give yourself time to decide whether you want to start paying or cancel altogether.
  4. Scrutinize the fine print. The terms and conditions should detail how much advance notice you need to cancel and then once you do, ask the company to confirm that it has been cancelled.
  5. Look at your bank statement. You might find some payments there that you didn’t realize you were still making, and no longer need or use. Then cancel them.