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The OFT closed on 31 March 2014 and this website is no longer being updated. The OFT's work and responsibilities have passed to a number of different bodies. Read more.

Issuing contracts

The OFT considers certain standard contract terms used by businesses to be potentially unfair. You have a legal duty not to use unfair terms in the contracts you have with consumers. Below is advice for business about standard contract terms.

Most standard terms are covered by the unfair contract terms legislation. In practice this means:

  • types of terms that may be found unfair include disclaimers which seek to limit liability for: death or injury, delays, faulty or misdescribed goods, and unsatisfactory services
  • other common unfair terms include: those that deny the consumer full redress, impose unfair penalties, loss of prepayments, and businesses varying the terms after the contract has been agreed
  • certain terms are excluded, for example, 'core' terms which set the price or define the product or service are exempt provided they are in plain language, and 
  • terms do not have to be in writing.

Consumers can complain about unfair contract terms to their Local Authority Trading Standards Services, the OFT and other qualifying organisations (the utility, rail and communication regulators, the Information Commissioner, Which? and the Financial Services Authority).

The OFT and other enforcers have powers to stop businesses using unfair terms or recommending the use of such terms in contracts with consumers. 

To find out more about the unfair contract terms legislation, including guidance specific to particular kinds of businesses that explains which types of term are unfair and which are exempt, see the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations area of the site.

For guidance relating to specific sectors, visit the publications area of the website.

For a summary of the key contract terms, identified within the OFT's consumer contracts market study, that are most likely to cause consumer harm read Consumer contracts Top Tips (pdf 73kb). These top tips have been designed to help businesses establish clear and fair contract terms.


The OFT’s enforcement role

Following changes to the consumer protection regime introduced by Government in April 2013, local authority Trading Standards Services have a greater role in the enforcement of consumer protection law at national level. The OFT retains (and from April 2014 the new Competition Markets Authority will inherit) all of its previous consumer enforcement powers but will now tend to use those powers where breaches of consumer protection law point to systemic failures in a market. This means cases will more often be taken against a number of firms in a market, rather than cases against individual firms, unless changing the behaviour of one firm would set a precedent or have other market-wide implications.

The OFT retains its lead role for the enforcement of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 although the Trading Standards Services has equal enforcement powers.

In the first instance consumers are encouraged to contact Citizens Advice regarding any problems they may have in buying goods or services.

Unfair standard terms (pdf 73 kb)

Unfair contract terms guidance (pdf 281 kb)

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