Banks have been urged to cut the length of their terms and conditions leaflets after it took savers up to 1 hour and 40 minutes to read through the small-print, according to research by Which?.
The consumer group found that banks’ terms and conditions pamphlets can run to up to 30,000 words half the length of a novel and are not written in “straightforward” language.
Which? said that consumers are often “baffled” by the documents and called for banks to make their terms and conditions “clear, concise and jargon-free”.
A survey by the consumer group found that only one in ten people read their bank’s terms and conditions thoroughly when they open an account.
First Direct and Halifax’s terms and conditions would also take more than an hour to read, Which? said.
Peter Vicary-Smith, Which?’s chief executive, said that it is “completely unrealistic” for banks to expect their customers to “plough through 30,000 words of financial jargon and small print”.
He said: “Banks should drastically reduce the length of their terms and conditions, so that their customers are not put off from reading them in the first place, and make sure they are clear, jargon-free and easy to understand.”
A panel set up by the consumer group was set the challenge of finding key pieces of information in eight major banks’ small-print. The panel failed in almost half of the cases.
Which? found that Nationwide’s small print ran to 7,500 words, the shortest of the major banks it looked at. Meanwhile First Direct and HSBC’s stretched to 25,000 and 29,000 words respectively.
Commenting on Natwest’s terms and conditions, which run to 11,000 words, one Which? panelist said: “It’s enormous. I felt completely lost. The information is not organised coherently and I found it really difficult to navigate.”
A second panelist, who was trying to get through Lloyds TSB’s small-print, said: “The document had only very general contents list, so quite a lot of reading was necessary to find specific information.”
Banks were found to be using typefaces and font sizes that consumers said were hard to read.
Analysing the terms and conditions leaflets using criteria set out in the Plain English Campaign, Which? said that the documents needed to use shorter sentences, should explain technical terms more clearly, and to use clear and simple headings that stand out from the text.
Most documents seemed unnecessarily long, Which? said. It found that two banks HSBC and Nationwide had additional terms for internet banking, so their main ‘terms and conditions’ booklets do not contain all that people need to know.