How many subscription services are you signed up to? With Spotify, Netflix and Amazon Prime if you’re feeling plush, and maybe that gym membership that you’ve sworn you’ll use more, subscription services represent a regular part of many of our lives and can add up to make a serious dent in your finances at the end of the month.

For most of us, such services are harmless, if a little underused. But new research by Citizens Advice Manchester has shown that this is not always the case and that people can get into some serious bother, with some spending hundreds of pounds on them when they’re no longer needed.

Analysis of 500 cases reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service between June and August 2017 showed that people lost, on average, a total of £160 from subscriptions they wanted to cancel but weren’t able to. Their figures also show that nine in ten people were actually prevented from cancelling subscriptions when they asked to. Common reasons given for turning down a cancellation include being told to use a specific method, like the phone, or to give more than a month’s notice. People also reported not being made aware they had signed up for a subscription in the first place or that their contract would automatically renew.

Andy Brown, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Manchester, said: “People can be made to feel like they’re going round in circles when trying to cancel a subscription.

“This research shows that companies are continuing to cash in on unwanted subscriptions by blocking people’s cancellation on the grounds of a technicality. It’s important for people to read any terms and conditions before signing up to a subscription, but they should also be on the lookout for companies who are deliberately throwing obstacles in their way when they try to cancel.

“Anyone who needs advice on how to cancel a subscription, or runs into difficulty doing so, should contact us for further help.”

If you’ve run into trouble whilst trying to unsubscribe from a service, or if you signed up to one without realising, it can be helpful to observe the following tips:

Check what your cancellation rights are
Each supplier can set their own cancellation policy and they don’t need to offer you a right to cancel your subscription early. Make sure the terms and conditions look reasonable before signing up.

Remember you’ve got a cooling off period if you buy online
If you bought the subscription online, the law says you usually have 14 days to get your money back if you change your mind. However, you might not be able to get a refund if you start using the service straight away.

Follow the cancellation policy
Make sure you follow the cancellation policy set out in your contract when you’re ready to end your subscription. Don’t stop your payment without checking what else is required first – otherwise your subscription may not be cancelled and you could be liable for any missed payments.

Challenge unfair T&Cs
There are no strict definitions for what counts as an unfair policy. But if you’re finding it tough or have to give a long period of notice to cancel a subscription, contact the supplier’s customer services department. If this fails go to the supplier’s trade or complaints body or report to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service.

Although it can be daunting challenging such services, especially when the terms and conditions tend to be wrapped up in legalese and other complicated language, the above points show that more often than not the law is on your side. Your consumer rights are rarely advertised but in the face of such unscrupulous trading practices they need to – and should be – exercised. The cumulative cost – as shown by Citizens Advice – of these services can be significant, especially for those on a limited income, and in the run up to the festive period, every penny in your pocket counts.

David Ewing