Terms & Conditions may not 'protect you, the customer', says Tony Bingham, in fact they can be packed with limitations

I am sitting here gawping at a page of small print Terms & Conditions. No, not for the purposes of getting paid to do so; this time I am about to sign up to a contract for me, mine, my affairs. And damn me, I was ever so tempted just to sign up and get things moving. I had to give myself a good talking to... “Here you are Bingham, lawyer, barrister, disputomaniac, stealing yourself to read this plethora of small print”.

Twice I bunged the bumf on to a side table and eventually began to do what you too should do but don’t. I began to read the tiny print, the clause headings, the sub-clauses, the exclusion clauses, the notwithstanding and the ifs and buts. “Sod it”, I said four times. Worse words I said five times. I struggled and wrestled. Worst of all no one was paying me to do all this!

And all that was for getting into contract with the outfit that ‘looked’ favourite. Fed up with them I delved into their competitor. Hells bells these blighters had the self same small print. A third outfit had the same too! They each are members of the same trade association. So I telephoned the Association. Yes, yes by now I have my teeth into this. The Consumer Affairs officer told me that these are the Terms & Conditions the Association publishes, “to protect you... the customer”.

Hey wait a minute the small print is heaving with limitation clauses “we limit our liability to threepence happenny for any one event”. But we offer you an insurance policy to increase the liability said the Consumer Affairs officer. In any case, he asked, what do you want instead? I want all the small print knocked out. Instead I simply want The Supply of Goods & Services Act and the common law. “Tricky” he said. We parted on good terms... “just ask our Association members to omit the small print” he said. And I did. And guess what they said... yes, they said “No chance”.

So: I am still gawping. Mind you there is a real chance that my next step is the Office of Fair Trading, but first there is the Competition Act, the Fair Trading Act, the Enterprise Act, the Unfair Contract Terms in Consumer Contracts... and even the European Convention on Human Rights. Or should I do what you do: sign up and suck it and see? And if it all goes pear shaped... well I will have to reach for my lawyer won’t I?