Small print could soon be a thing of the past

From 19/11/07:

"Information requirements are an irritant for business and consumers routinely ignore the small print overload because it is turgid and confusing, according to a Government study. A new report calls for a rethink by policy-makers and businesses.

Consumer[s]... are not necessarily making informed decisions [about purchases] – meaning it is unlikely that regulated information is having a major impact on their behaviour."

The study further found that, "Consumers ignore the detail, especially when making spontaneous decisions, for example, when being offered a store card at point of sale. Low literacy groups said the small print was scary and humiliating. Other groups were blasé about ignoring the contract detail, describing it as unimportant and boring. When prompted for their reaction to wording such as "The Consumer Credit Act 1974" people "glazed over", according to the researchers. A representative response: "What the hell is the Consumer Credit Act 1974 anyway?"

I know how they feel, particularly having studied the monster in my Consumer Law module as an undergrad. Just kidding. The bottom line here is that something MUST be done about the issues relating to small-print - its ineffectual, pedantic and frankly, not fit for purpose. The idea of using layman's terms, flow diagrams, symbols and colours is a good one. Better education of the salespeople in relation to the goods they are selling and how they are affected by the CCA wouldn't be a bad thing either.

A simpler or alternative redrafting of the Act for reproduction in contract documents actually issued to consumers would perhaps be in order too. Of all the Acts out there, sections of the CCA, must be amongst the most commonly read by consumers and its wording should reflect that. Going even further, maybe businesses who sell products pursuant to the CCA should be required to produce an additional help-sheet providing a simplistic breakdown of information relating directly to the type of goods they sell and how it will affect the consumer's purchase. After all, if obligations are going to be imposed on businesses to conform to the CCA, they might as well be effective and worth the time and effort of implementing.


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