I just received an email from NSW Roads & Maritime Servies E-Toll informing me that the terms and conditions of my E-Toll account and tag have been updated. The T&Cs document is 14 pages and there is no indication of what has been changed. Since I don’t have a local copy of the T&Cs document (who does these days when they can be readily accessed online), I have no way of knowing what has been changed. I think this is poor customer service in the digital age and there should be a summary provided of what changes have been made to the T&Cs document so it’s only necessary to review the relevant sections of the T&Cs document. I have plenty of examples where companies update their T&Cs and provide a summary of the changes, so it’s not “too hard”.
I also have the same beef when I receive updated T&Cs. Some companies will provide a high level summary of what the changes are (find these are usually multinational or very large Australian companies), but most don’t provide any information in relation to what the changes are and how they may affect the consumer.
The change could be as small as adding a full stop or changing the date to indicate that a review has occurred, to significant changes which could affect ones decisions in relation to the use of the service subject of the T&Cs.
One would expect that in today’s day and age, it would be very easy to produce two copies of the updated T&Cs, the final updated version and one showing tracked changes (or alternatively a summary of the changes). This would reduce confusion and also workload on the consumer having to read all the T&Cs again to make sure one is happy/agrees/ accepts them.
Also, one should expect the government to set the standard and ensure user friendliness, and not be a recalcitrant organisation.
You can’t give informed consent to the changes when the changes are buried in some ridiculously long document.
It’s obvious that companies won’t all do the right thing in this regard unless they are legally obliged to do so.
This does however lead to a related problem i.e. the ridiculously long document itself. In selected industries (banking, telco) companies may be obliged to produce a pro forma summary of the Terms and Conditions in plain English. In general though you are on your own.
The other practice that is questionable for tolls and similar services is when a major consumer change does occur.
Eg Change in charges for credit card payment, Changes to how you can pay, Changes to minimum balance requirements.
These changes are clearly announced. They are typically accompanied with an updated T&Cs doc. How many of us assume that the updated T&Cs cover only the listed item/s?
It would be nice if the ACCC made a requirement that all changes to T&Cs are to include a complete list of what actually changed since the previous version. Expecting a complete re-read is just not practical for consumers.
In the programming world, we call this a “diff”, essentially a side-by-side comparison of the parts that changed.
I found a summary of the changes:
Not sure when it was added, but it would have been easiest if the link was included in the email notifying the changes.
I sent RMS an email on this very issue expressing my dissatisfaction. They responded saying they’ll take it on board so we’ll see what happens but they seem to be taking notice when people write to them. I wasn’t abusive but neither was I gentle in my wording as I feel these issues generally arise due to sheer laziness and thoughtlessness. It was also interesting that they provided a link to the T&C which simply redirected to their home page, which had no sign of them and resembled one of those poles you often see with 20 street signs attached. Apparently this is acceptable from the RMS, as is the construction of some ridiculously designed sections of our road system. But don’t you go speeding even a bit ‘or else’.
The length of T&C documents is increasing, and thus increasingly ridiculous. In the interests of ‘full disclosure’ we’re provided with an unintelligible barrage of information after which companies can say they’re serving us better. It suits their purposes for you to be intimidated by these documents so they’re happy to ‘help’ by providing this info. I hired a car recently and the T&C consisted of 16 pages of none too clear info, when I questioned what ‘overhead damage’ meant I received an answer that was as imprecise as I’ve ever heard. It would be wonderful if everyone who hired a car over the next 48 hours insisted on reading the full T&C at the counter before signing for the keys but of course no one has the time, meaning the company wins again.
Recently I received a notification of T&C changes from Mac Bank. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw there was a summary of changes only to become deflated; while I could verify they were written in English I’d wager they made no sense to the majority of account holders. In fact they reminded me of those computer error messages that sometimes appear when installing new software…‘Root file ubb.32 caused an error, invalid main indexing was shut down. XYZ interface rejected’. Thanks for the help…even though it’s unintelligible…so seriously, why bother? The sad part is that someone, somewhere in the company, thinks this is ok.
I would seriously encourage people to mobilise consumer power if they experience T&C overload or amendment fatigue - call the company and ask them to talk you through it all in detail, in English so you can understand. The more people ring, the more likely they’ll get the message.
I think we are all in furious agreement.
- Massive and/or legalese Ts and Cs are not in the interests of consumers.
- Buried updates are not in the interests of consumers.
Both are designed to protect the interests of the company.