The Grumpy Old Man

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....In Doing Business, Do You Feel Unreasonable Contract Terms are Forced on You?....

....big business imposes unfair contract terms on the little guy....

Grumpy has long been concerned about the number of contract conditions that are increasingly being imposed on you and I when we carry out a huge variety of activities as part of our day-to-day business. To the supplier a "contract" and "terms and conditions" are little different and frequently are interwoven and interrelated. Within this context one must remember that a "contract" is defined as "an agreement with a person or company to deliver goods or services or to do something on mutually agreed terms". (Sometimes called 'Terms and Conditions', or Ts&Cs for short) In more succinct terms it can just be called a formal agreement between two or more parties, the physical form being a document that states the aims and terms of such agreement. It is important to remember that a "contract" does not always have a written form. As an example, when we make a simple purchase in a shop we are actually entering into a contract with the shopkeeper in that you have responsibilities to him in the same way that he has responsibilities to you. For small purchases it is not usually necessary for this contract to be documented and signed for each individual transaction. The problem I am identifying here is not with the small unwritten contract. In many ways it is very worrying that it is the bigger contracts where suppliers try and take us for a ride. Of even greater concern is the fact that we small guys are often put in a position where we are actually "over a barrel" and have little or no option but to accept certain potentially unhealthy aspects of the contract.

To backtrack a little, remember a written contract must contain at least three parts, these being the date of commencement, a statement of the details of the mutually agreed activity to be executed and a date for the completion of that activity. It is important to recognise that each of these three parts must appear for a contract to be legally binding.

The activities may range from important things such as taking up a new job, making a purchase in the local shop or garage, buying goods online, renting a house, arranging television reception, utility supplies and many, many more. You will recall particularly when you purchase goods online that you are invariably asked to tick a box that says "I agree to the terms and conditions" (of the vendor). Grumpy must ask when you tick this box how many times have you read and understood the terms and conditions? Grumpy would bet you any money that ninety five percent of the time you haven't read these terms and conditions. Mind you, he would include himself in that category. And ninety-five percent of the time there is never any problem. It is the remaining five percent that the contract or terms and conditions invariably come into there own.

Let me give you an example. I recall two separate occasions when I purchased property. On one occasion I used a relatively fresh (from training) solicitor to draw up the contracts and on the second occasion a much more mature (experienced) solicitor. What I found interesting was that, although both contracts correctly carried out the purpose of the document, one of them was nearly three times the size of the other. The more mature solicitor had many Ts&Cs in his contract, the purpose of some of which, quite frankly, I had a job seeing the appropriateness. So much so that during one meeting with him I asked why particular clauses were necessary. He explained that these clauses addressed problems that he had seen in similar previous transactions. The lack of some of these clauses in the past had resulted in litigation after the contract had terminated. The point being that the important parts of the contract may sometimes seem irrelevant but it is those parts that eventually constituted the five percent referred to above.

There are many examples of this sort of thing happening and many nuances to them. It will be interesting to look at them as each throws up something different and each requires a different solution to address the problem. Against this background, this grump is best treated as an introduction, and I will write a number of sub grumps looking at individual situations. I expect many of them will be familiar to you.

On a lighter note, I am reminded of the saying;
'you can fool some of the people all of the time
and you can fool all of the people some of the time,
but you will never fool all of the people all of the time'.

So beware those "Ts & Cs", some you are stuck with, others you may be able to change!

see also comments made in the Forum by Geoff on 28 July.

To find more about these abuses of priviledge, follow the links below

Contracts of Employment, a Salutory Tale
What, If Anything, Are the Government Doing About These Unfair Contract Terms?