Unfair terms and conditions
As well as adding terms and conditions to contracts to protect people, the law can also cancel out certain terms and conditions that are 'unfair'. For example, if the contract gives one person the right to end the contract whenever they like, but the other person can't do that, it is likely to be unfair. Contracts can often be unfair when they are between a company and a ‘consumer’ (a consumer is an individual who is buying for themselves, not for their business). If you feel you have got a raw deal from a contract, it may be worth seeking advice from an adviser at your local advice centre or calling Consumer Direct for advice - even if you’ve agreed to the terms and conditions you think are unfair.
"I was really busy making arrangements for my wedding last year. I'd ordered the bridesmaid dresses from a big department store - I had to pay for them when I made the order and they were due to be delivered a month before the big day. When the dresses arrived I was horrified - they were bright orange instead of pale pink! I immediately called the store to find out what was going on. They said that there had been a problem with their overseas supplier and that I could either keep the orange dresses or wait another 8 weeks for the right colour - too late for the wedding! They said that it was in their terms and conditions that they could change the colour or fabric of the dress without even telling me. I asked for my money back so I could try to find the right colour dresses somewhere else, but apparently it said on the back of the order form that prepayments would not be refunded. After a long fight I eventually got my money back and a little extra from the store because those terms were unfair."
Is it legal?
Even if you have a contract, the courts may not be able to help you if your contract is 'illegal' - if it contains an agreement to break the law. A common example of an illegal contract is when a worker agrees to be paid 'cash in hand', knowingly avoiding tax and National Insurance. If you have an illegal contract you will almost certainly lose your right to get compensation from the other side if something goes wrong.