Sensis ACCC bust shows fine print still matters

Angus Kidman 15 May 2017 NEWS

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When is a monthly contract actually an eternal contract?

So late last week Sensis - the company that publishes the Yellow Pages, remember them? - was slapped about slightly by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Its sin? Signing customers up to 12-month contracts for its online directories, and not disclosing that those contracts would automatically renew if they weren't explicitly cancelled.

That process led to a "large number of complaints" to the ACCC from small businesses. As the regulator explained:

From at least January 2015 to August 2016, Sensis represented on its website that its Yellow Pages and White Pages bundled print directory and online packages had a monthly fee with a 12-month minimum contract period, but failed to adequately disclose that these bundled packages automatically renewed for a further 12 months unless cancelled by the customer; and the customer may be charged a cancellation fee equal to the remaining cost of the contract if they cancelled an automatically renewed contract after a certain date.

Sensis has undertaken to refund customers and publish a notice on its site. Sensis has also agreed to modify standard terms in its contracts that might fall foul of tighter rules around unfair contracts for small businesses. It has promised to make its automatic renewal terms clearer, to issue reminders when a contract is due for automatic renewal, and to remove a clause that said Sensis could cancel a contract at any time "without cause".

In a Google-centric universe, you might well conclude that Sensis has about as much relevance as Morse code. But there's a handy lesson here for everyone: every time you sign up for a deal online, it pays to check the fine print.

It's easy to assume that a month-by-month deal can be cancelled at any time. But the reality is that many online services do have a minimum service term, and many more will automatically renew unless you cancel them. So make sure you know that before you sign up (and put a note on your calendar for a couple of days before the rollover so you can decide whether you actually want to renew).

I know: many people would rather stab themselves in the groin with a blunt knife than try and work their way through T&Cs. However, if you don't want to waste a lot of money, it's the only sensible path to take. While the ACCC is clearly pushing to make sure those disclosures are adequate, there's only so much it can do, especially with overseas firms. The final responsibility is still yours. Don't needlessly pour money into a service you don't need.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

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