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Standard T&Cs: Make Them Easy to Read

Standard T&Cs: Make Them Easy to Read
11 September 2017

How easy to read are the standard terms and conditions (T&Cs) of your business? They don't need to be long-winded or couched in legal terminology. Making your terms of business understandable makes sense for you and your customers.

Why have written terms and conditions?

If you run your own business then it's in your interest to set out the terms under which you trade with your customers.  Every time you make a sale you enter into a contract with the buyer, regardless of whether or not you have a written agreement.  The terms of the contract will include any specific T&Cs you have set out and other terms which are provided by law ('implicit' terms).

You can't (lawfully) override or sidestep your obligations set out by law.  But the standard terms set out in statute don't cover every aspect of trading and there is still scope for you to specify how your business will handle things such:

  • returns and refunds
  • cancellations
  • intellectual property rights
  • late payment
  • delivery times
  • payment terms
  • guarantees and warranties
  • obligations of both you and the customer.

You an include any terms you like so long as they're lawful.

Setting out your trading terms clearly and precisely can help avoid problems with customers. Should a dispute ever arise then a written contract between you and your customer will be evidence of the terms that were agreed.

Do all businesses need written T&Cs?

Of course, it's not sensible for all businesses to present their prospective customers with a written set of terms and conditions to read and accept before purchase.  Buying a newspaper and a pint of milk from a newsagent would become quite tedious if you had to sign a contract at the till every time.  But there is still a contract in place and a legal relationship formed between you and your customer when a purchase is made.

If, on the other hand, your business makes bespoke window frames or provides domestic cleaning services then a written set of terms and conditions is essential.  You need to make it clear to your customer, in some detail, what it is you are providing (and not providing, in some cases) and what you expect from them in return.

Incorporating your terms into contract

The law says that your terms and conditions don't apply (aren't 'incorporated' into the contract) unless you've made them sufficiently clear to the customer before they agree to buy.  Generally speaking, if your included your T&Cs in printed, legible format along with any proposal or quotation you will have done what is required.  It makes sense to include a reference to your T&Cs in any accompanying documentation e.g. "see terms and conditions on reverse".

In many retail shops you will see the shop's returns and refund policy clearly displayed near the till.  That is how they go about bring their terms and conditions to the attention of their customer.

For many small businesses a suitable approach is to provide your customer with full and precise details of the goods and services you are providing in a quote or schedule, including your written business terms and conditions. Your customer can read through the quote and make sure that you both agree what it is they are buying. By doing so, you are bringing your terms and conditions to the attention of your customer in an appropriate manner.

Terms and conditions of sale for online shops

If your sell your goods or services online then you still need to provide your terms and conditions to your customers before they buy, and get them to indicate that they've agreed. Different laws apply when you sell online but many of the general obligations are the same.

Anyone who has bought anything online within the past few years will be familiar with the ubiquitous tick box to agree with the sellers terms and conditions.  You can rarely conclude an online purchase without ticking the 'I have read and agree' box (or similar).

Do we all stop and read the T&Cs before proceeding when buying online?  I doubt it and with good reason: sometimes the T&Cs are just too long winded.   It doesn't have to be that way.  Do your customers a favour and make your terms and conditions easy to read.  If you don't know where to start you could try our legal templates.  We offer a comprehensive range of straight-forward, legally sound terms and conditions templates for small businesses, including window fitters.

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