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Subscription ‘traps’ cost billpayers £688m per year

Subscription ‘traps’ cost billpayers £688m per year
Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Citizens Advice has issued a warning about subscription traps that are easy to get into, yet difficult to cancel.

The charity said that consumers are wasting millions of pounds each year after its research found that more than 13 million people (26% of UK adults) have accidentally taken out a subscription in the past 12 months. These subscriptions cover services from fitness apps to food delivery services, and repeat pet food to magazine subscriptions.

The charity is warning that the problem of subscription traps is deepening, as it estimates unused subscriptions have cost consumers £688m in the last year. This is up £382m from the £306m Citizens Advice found when it last looked into the problem at the end of 2022.

Of those who ended up with an accidental subscription, the most common reason was because it auto-renewed without their knowledge (40%). This is followed by people who took out a subscription for a free trial but forgot to cancel later (39%). Worryingly, almost one in four (24%) people who have ended up in an accidental subscription thought they were making a one-off purchase.

Citizens Advice is warning that failure to tackle subscription traps is not only a risk to consumers – who could end up parting with more money than they originally bargained for, or can afford – but it is also a risk to businesses.

More than half (54%) of people said that they have decided not to sign up for a subscription due to concerns about how difficult it would be to cancel.

Calls for Government regulation

With three quarters (74%) of UK adults supporting a ban on automatic subscription renewals where consumers haven’t actively agreed to it, the charity is calling on the Government to clamp down on this practice in the upcoming Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill.

Citizens Advice wants to see consumers offered a choice over whether their subscriptions are subject to auto-renew, and over whether they want to continue to a subscription service at the end of a free trial.

Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “With budgets increasingly squeezed and living costs often exceeding the amount people have coming in each month, it’s vital consumers feel in control of their spending.

“Companies relying on people forgetting to cancel at the end of a free trial is an unacceptable business model that exploits busy, cash-strapped consumers.

“While the Government has acknowledged subscription traps are a problem that need to be fixed, the plans laid out in the upcoming Consumer Bill risk failing to fix them. We need to see the root cause of subscription traps tackled head on. Consumers should be offered a choice over whether their subscriptions auto-renew and whether they want to continue after a free trial.”