back to article Fairness FAIL: When small print contradicts the big print

Companies whose small print changes the basis of consumer deals will face investigation by consumer regulator the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), it has said. According to the OFT, one in five consumers had experienced a contract problem in the last year. The OFT has set out the criteria it will use to judge whether or not …


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  1. unitron

    "Fairness FAIL: When small print contradicts the big print"

    Oh, like TiVo re-re-defining "lifetime" from life of the account holder to life of the machine to life of the provision of the service to a particular subset of the machines of a particular subset of the account holders?

    Like that?

  2. P Saunders

    3G data contact took the cake

    A few years ago, the 3G data contract from a South African cell network operator (MTN to those even remotely interested) took the cake for contradicting itself. Buried deep in the fine print was a clause that stated that the operator was not obligated to provide the service for which the subscriber was paying.

    1. Chad H.

      Fairly standard

      Have you read your mobile contract recently?

      Picking one at random, o2 uk section 2.3 of the consumer postpay contract does this.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        And Orange ...

        They blocked my phone for several days because they mistakenly believed I had not paid my bill.

        They never refunded me the service plan for those lost days, stating that according to the contract I signed, they weren't actually obliged to provide me with a service.

        1. Dave Bell

          Trying to be fair...

          The trouble is that they can't give a 100% guarantee, even before hardware failures and the like which can afflict any communication service. OK, there are things that can be done to cover the initital situation, where it becomes apparent that the customer can't get a reliable connection to the network. But that's a whole different sort of problem from them messing up business admin. It's a shift from "Ye cannae break the laws of physics," to the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            I'm not the kind of ass-hat that would expect 100% uptime without paying a fuck ton of money for it.

            I'm an ass-hat, just not that kind.

  3. Mystic Megabyte


    Yes, just like BT!

    After searching through all the small print (if there is an "R" in the month then these conditions do not apply) you always get to "Other Terms and Conditions apply - See"

    Some somewhere buried on their web-site is an ever changing get-out clause.

    WTF is that about? As you can tell, they are not high on my list of trusted companies.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    not published...

    Most vendors do not publish their terms and contracts online. I wanted to buy a 3G wifi dongle and checked the websites of all the major mobile operators. Nowhere to be found the small print. It's a case of buy it and then we'll show you a written copy of the contract, which you have 7 days to get out of if you don't like it, otherwise lump it :-(

    1. Chad H.


  5. ADJB

    Unlimited downloads?

    Well that blows every ISP contract out of the water.

    It wont happen but it would be nice to see some honest advertising. Of course nobody will believe it after years of being lied to as consumers by just about every company out there.

  6. Dazed and Confused


    Please Oh Please include EULA in this.

  7. BristolBachelor Gold badge
    Thumb Up


    An end to EULAs please. They are a PITA. Normally longer than war & peace and have to be read in a window the size of a postage stamp.

    The basic law already provides several protections for the software suppliers.

    Even the "Federation Against Software Theft" talks about the "purchase" of software, and the word "theft" can only used for a tangable item, so software is a tangable item that is purchased, and normally in the same way as any other "good". Then after-the-fact telling people that it is only licensed with 100000 clauses is not expected.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Mobile Unilmite

    The use in mobile phone adverts of the word unlimited should mean unlimited, not see fair usage policy.

  9. Dez666

    Unlimited* Joy :-)

    I'm sure that consumers will be experiencing 'unlimited* joy' now.

    (* N.B. The operator reserves the right to edit all English dictionaries, at any time of it's choosing, to alter the word 'unlimited' to in fact mean an operator approved 'limit of joy'. And they may not tell you what this limit is, until after you have broken it!!)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      you forgot “in/at our (or whoever's) sole discretion”

      you forgot “in/at our (or whoever's) sole discretion” in virtually all contracts OC.

      clearly an unlawful and invalid clause, so wiping out all that section as you the other party have no redress, its one sided and discriminatory etc....

      put simply , they say they can do it, whatever it is, and screw you the paying customer, tough titty ,

      pay us for that unused months disconnection accounting error ,plus the extra re-connection fee OC that faceless we caused.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Want to add Sony PS3 ?

    Blurb says you can run "OtherOS"

    Contract says they can take it away

    (not that I own a PS3, just stirring up trouble)

  11. Owen Carter

    The OFT.

    This is from the OFT; doing something for the consumers.. or should we say doing one last thing for consumers before it is disbanded.

    Because soon it will be no more and all it's duties will fall to Trading Standards (already overloaded) and the Citizens Advice Bureau (funded by local councils and guaranteed to suffer severe funding cuts real soon now).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      2 hours per week

      "Citizens Advice Bureau (funded by local councils and guaranteed to suffer severe funding cuts real soon now)."

      they mean like the Citizens Advice Bureau that only gets 2 hours per week at the local library (as they couldn't pay the rent for an office) in one of greater Manchester's largest populated council housing and yet poorest income can take yet another cut right !

  12. Anonymous Coward

    There are some problems with your post

    The average shop monkey doesn't even know what a contract is, they're there to sell stuff and get commission. As noted above, any attempt to look at the contract before buying is met with blank incomprehension. OFT are as useless as all the other pretend regulators: too busy doing lunch with the criminals they're meant to be chasing.

    1. Oliver Mayes

      Agree with you there

      "The average shop monkey doesn't even know what a contract is"

      When I went into the O2 store to buy a new phone it came with 'unlimited 3G usage*' The * at the bottom of the page (in minute writing hidden under a photo of a happy smiling person using an O2 phone) said that the unlimited usage was subject to a FUP. When I asked for a copy of this FUP before buying the phone/signing the contract not a single person in the store, including the store manager, knew what it was. After about 10 minutes of rifling through papers and advertising they just said "It's probably on the website somewhere".

      I still haven't found it yet.

  13. Alan J. Wylie


    The current Dilbert cartoons are rather appropriate , starting at

  14. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Just to add fuel...

    A couple of weeks ago I altered my current package with Virgin media over the telephone and at no point were the terms and conditions of my revised contract mentioned by the call centre centre monkey i.e. I had to specifically ask to have them sent out.

    Having now just received the revised paperwork, the point of this article becmes clear. The VM terms and conditions "booklet" is 7 pages long in A5 format - and written in a VERY small font. Now you tell me, how am I supposed to decipher that? Given that I either accept them, or refuse them (and have to change provider), and that (I am assuming) most service provider terms and conditions are likely to follow the same line - this gives me, the consumer, very little choice.

    I think in future, unless there is significant change required to the format and presentation of T&Cs, the way to protect the public is that the consumer has the right to challenge any term or condition at the expense of the company being challenged, or that all companies are required to work under a blanket TCF policy similar to that laid down by the FSA.

    At the moment, it is too one sided, and there is no clear statement of what is deemed "fair" or "unfair."

  15. Just Thinking


    Ban those pesky little asterisks next to the headline claim as well. Sometimes there isn't even a footnote to explain it. It just means "this isn't really true".

    If a claim isn't straightforward enough to be printed in three words, then they shouldn't be allowed to print those three words in large type and explain them in fine print underneath.

    If a special offer requires a paragraph to explain all the get-out clauses, then they should be forced to print the whole thing, together, in the same sized font. Maybe then the idea of adding so many get-out clauses might seem less attractive.

  16. John Tserkezis

    Perhaps people can stop being surprised, and read their freaking fine print...

    Shock horror. Fine print tries to screw the customer.

    There can't be THAT many idiots out there?

    Dunno how it works in the UK, but in Australia, by law, you MUST be able to have access to the entire contract before signing, or agreeing to it.

    Sure, they don't always make it convenient, but you have the right to go away and read it (or have someone read it for you) before singing or agreeing.

    If you don't like it, or don't understand it, don't sign it. They're not holding a gun to your head.

    You always have options to go with another vendor.

    Piddles to you if you get screwed otherwise.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There can't be that many idiots...

      Oh yes there can be that many idiots. The consuming public are easily lead around by their emotions and oblivious to terms and conditions on the items they buy, some of which are cellular/mobile communications, extended warranties (on anything), or even the warranty on their vehicle. The average naked-ape does not read agreements, they sign them. They have no idea what they are agreeing to , they simply want at the bright shiny being tantalizingly in front of them and will sign pretty much anything to get what they want.

      Dogbert rules!

  17. Inachu


    I am so sure that someone somewhere is saying that it is so anti business to go after them.

  18. Dave 8

    Cut-n-paste email conversation

    Me: I won't agree to signing time sheets electronically because of these two lines.

    "Company X may amend these Terms of Use at any time by posting amended Terms of Use to the Site. You will be deemed to have agreed to the amended Terms of Use when you next use this site following any amendment. "

    Them: How do we fix this?

    I can only imagine that we can could send you a letter confirming that these point will not change - is this acceptable? As per my Ops Director comment's..

    Me: Remove the lines from your T&Cs?

    Them: We cannot change the terms so we will have to leave this one.

    Me: But that line says you can ;-)

    I lost the will to live at this stage.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Changing T&Cs

    I just wonder - has anyone ever had any success sending their own T&C back to a supplier, or crossing out a particular paragraph on the contact that is to be signed?

    Dear <Large Corporation>

    In reply to your recent letter explaining the new terms and conditions of the supply of <product> - here are my terms and conditions... etc?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      LOL like it

      "Dear <Large Corporation>

      In reply to your recent letter explaining the new terms and conditions of the supply of <product> - here are my terms and conditions..."

      LOL i like your thinking there AC, perhaps an open free website can be set up for the masses to nitpick the <Large Corporation> T&C and auto generate these customer favoured 'our terms and conditions in reply' that anyone can use and contribute too

  20. Wile E. Veteran

    An old Legal System proverb

    What the large print giveth

    the small print taketh away.

    For advertising, contracts, agreements, leases, receipts etc. etc. etc.

    Mine's the one with the Guide to Business Law in the pocket

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Small Print on Three Telecom's "All you can Eat" One Plan...

    When you signup for the deal in the Store, the short document you are asked to sign states that the Full Terms & Conditions of the contract are available to read on the Three WebSite:

    You go to their Website and you find a 2 page A4 PDF that contains *36* pages of T&C's:

    Just try printing it and reading it! Then you'll know what they mean by Small Print!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "On the other, small print is a necessary fact of life ..."

    Dear interviewer, This is the point in the interview where you should have extracted the tape recorder from your pocket, pointed to it and said "This is recording, can you repeat that."

    Fine print is NOT a fact of life, it is a cost savings measure.

    btw, Is there a minimum legal font size for 'fine print'? (not that that means anything online as I can zoom in as far as I need)

  23. Hywel Thomas

    They'll be interested on this then...

  24. P. Lee Silver badge

    My favourite is Apple T&C's as seen on ipod touch.

    57 pages and changed with every update.

    Seriously, are their legal team so bad they keep forgetting things?

    Seriously, how hard is it to say "don't copy our stuff and don't copy stuff you download from us."

  25. Silver

    My favourite

    Seen on a poster in Wetherspoons over 10 years ago:


    and then at the bottom:

    * Not available Sunday.

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