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11 Jun 2021

Easylife catalogue 'stealth sign-up' left vulnerable customer paying for an unwanted subscription

One woman's battle to rid her mum of an unwanted catalogue subscription
Old lady with letter

Do you have an issue you need help with? Which? is here to give impartial advice to get your consumer problems sorted.

Dear Which?,

At the start of the pandemic, my elderly mother bought some face masks from an Easylife catalogue to help protect herself from Covid-19.

Two weeks later, mysterious payments to Easylife appeared on her credit card statement. The company took £1.99 and then £70 from my mum's account as payment for a subscription to a 'rewards club' she never asked for.

When I contacted Easylife to find out why, I was told that she agreed to a 'rewards club' subscription during a previous phone conversation. My mum assures me she never consented to the scheme.

I've since found out that the £1.99 payment was to cover the cost of postage for the 'rewards club' welcome letter and 'reward card'. The card had already expired.

My mum now has her money back, but since this episode Easylife has started contacting my husband in the hope of getting him to discuss his funeral plan. I'm furious with Easylife. What can I do to stop the company from using my family's personal data in this way?

Ann-Marie, from Meopham, Kent.

Luke Jeffery, Which? consumer rights expert, says: This is a strange case that potentially involves a misuse of personal data.

Any company must get explicit consent from customers if it wants to send them offers and promotions. It should also get consent if it wants to share customer information with other organisations.

In addition, it must make it clear what it intends to do with your data, using plain language that's easy to understand.

Companies are also obliged to make it easy for customers to opt out of any marketing or correspondence that they didn't ask for.

Tell your bank to block future recurring payments

As you believe the £70 payment is unauthorised, you can tell your bank or credit card provider to stop future payments to Easylife and ask it to refund payments already made under the Payment Service Regulations 2017.

The direct debit guarantee also gives you the right to cancel any future payments. The regulations treat unauthorised card usage the same as they do lost or stolen cards.

We asked Easylife about its process for handling customer data and it said 'no customer is signed up without consent... as all calls are recorded the recording can be sent to the customer, which will no doubt jog their memory'.

We also asked Easylife how customers could get a refund for unauthorised payments, in case others have had similar issues, the company told us 'we are only happy if our customers are happy, so we operate an unconditional cancellation policy... we process refunds speedily, with over 97% processed within 48 hours.'

Dealing with direct marketing

If companies mishandle your data and breach data protection rules, they can be fined substantial amounts.

If you're concerned about unwanted marketing calls, you can register your phone number with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). The TPS is effectively a 'do not call' register for phone numbers that companies aren't allowed to contact.

If you want to escalate the complaint further, the Data Protection Act 2018 (GDPR) gives you the right to object to any activity from companies. This includes processing information used for marketing purposes, such as unwanted calls.

Companies must inform you of your right to object to the processing of your data in their privacy notice or the first time you make contact with them.

To make a start, you need to spell out that you're asking the organisation to stop processing your personal data. This may be your full name, email address or other information. The best way to do this is via email, as it automatically means you have a copy of your notice and a paper trail to refer to.

You'll need to explicitly say that you're asking Easylife to stop processing your personal data for marketing purposes in accordance with Section 47 of the Data Protection Act 2018 (GDPR). You'll also need to date your notice and give the company a reasonable deadline by which to comply with your request. This usually takes about 28 days to complete.

If you're concerned about how an organisation obtained your data and is using it, you can also make a subject access request (SAR). This right of access means you can ask to review and verify the lawfulness of the processing of your personal data.

Need to know

  • Regularly check your debit and credit card statements for any regular payments that aren't direct debits or standing orders.
  • Consider adding your number to the Telephone Preference Service to block nuisance calls.
  • Use your data protection rights to manage how organisations use your personal data.

Get in touch

If you've got a consumer rights problem you need put right email us at yourstory@which.co.uk.

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