Which? (a lobbying organisation) has started a campaign to end baffling terms and conditions. They want to make it simple to know what you are signing up for.
Since October 2015, the Consumer Rights Act has required terms to be fair, transparent and prominent. Transparent and prominent respectively mean:
- expressed in plain and intelligible language and (in the case of a written term) legible
- brought to [your] attention in such a way that an average consumer – ie a reasonably well-informed observant and circumspect consumer – would be aware of the term
Which’s latest research shows that only 16% of people always read the T&C they have signed up to.
Fair to whom?
I have been working with Foundations on revising their contract for Home Improvement Agency projects. These contracts are used by builders and home-owners (largely elderly or vulnerable people).
Rather than applying the test of the average consumer, these contracts need to be read, understood and used by someone with little or no understanding of the construction process. The role of the contract is to explain the process, the project and their role in it. The contract itself needs to minimise queries and encourage the home-owner to read it so they understand what the contract requires them to do.
In our revision we:
- created separate headed sections for each party and for the contract administrator
- ensured the obligations were written in plain language with minimum jargon
- collated the ‘need to know’ information on the front page
- followed the chronology of a project in the obligations (commencement to defects)
- added descriptive headings so a reader can tell at a glance what the section covers
- created short paragraphs, bullet points and consistent terminology.
Fairness and transparency demand that we, as contract writers, consider the reader very carefully. That we stand in their shoes. That we protect the interests of the vulnerable while reflecting the interests of the other parties. That we make life easier for them with simple contracts.