Ask LH: Can I Get A Refund For An Auto-Renewing Service?

Ask LH: Can I Get A Refund For An Auto-Renewing Service?

Dear Lifehacker, A while ago I purchased a subscription for an online service. I was a regular user for a while, but I haven’t visited it in over a year. Recently I noticed the automatic yearly renewal for the site being charged to my credit card. I didn’t receive a renewal notice so I find this rather annoying.

The terms for the site specify that once a renewal is made no refunds will be given for any reason. Other than calling my bank or PayPal to report an unauthorised transaction, is there any consumer agency I can turn to for help? Every other service I use issues a reminder and offer an option not to renew. Any suggestions? Thanks, Subpar Subscriber

Terms and conditions picture from Shutterstock

Dear SS,

Unfortunately, we think you’re going to have to treat this as a learning experience. The lesson? Check the terms and conditions carefully before you sign up for any online service (whether that’s email or storage or a webapp or porn), and make sure you understand whether the service will automatically charge a renewal every month or every year.

It’s extremely common for sites to automatically renew your subscription unless you explicitly cancel them beforehand. It’s certainly not best practice, but it’s the reality of the marketplace.

Many sites will issue a reminder email, but not all will, and they’re not legally obliged to. If the terms and conditions include a statement that the site will auto-renew, and you agree to those terms, then you’re responsible for cancelling if you no longer want a service.

Making sure you don’t get caught out by this kind of tactic requires organisation. If you do sign up for any kind of web-based service with an automatic renewal, make a calendar entry for a few days before it expires to remind yourself to cancel if you’re no longer using it. You could also use a disposable credit card, which means that even if the service tries to auto-renew, it won’t work. (Some services won’t accept those cards for that reason, but it’s worth trying.)

Many web-based services offer a discount if you pay for a year up front, or charge more for a non-renewing service. Saving money is wise, but if you’re not the organised type, choosing the more expensive non-renewing service can make more sense, especially initially.

In your specific case, if you could demonstrate that there was nothing in the terms and conditions of the specific service to indicate automatic renewal, you might have a case to take to the ACCC or your state consumer regulator. And it’s certainly worth trying to contact your bank or PayPal, though again the fact you willingly signed up and paid for the service a year ago (and didn’t dispute that original transaction) will probably count against you.

Ultimately, however, I suspect you’re going to have to chalk this one up to experience, and learn to think twice before clicking the ‘subscribe’ button.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Yeah, that’s happened to me.
    Except it was $20 monthly for 5 months. I managed to get the final payment refunded though.

  • Get in contact with them, if they have a number call it. Worst thing that can happen is they say no and you waste 10mins…

    • Yeah I don’t have sympathy in the sense that I think this is a completely valid methodology (and one I myself have let continue past its use by date), but I think contacting them and politely requesting a refund and cancellation is a great idea. Some will, some won’t. Worth a shot depending on what the specifics are.

    • That doesn’t even make any sense. Who would even consider cancelling this kind of subscription?

  • The pay sports channel Setanta is brilliant for this. You can sign up any time instantly on the web but when it comes to cancelling you have to call them on a special number that is a distant call centre operated only by one person only during business hours Mon to Fri.
    The number of times I would hang on the line for 30 minutes then give up and say I’ll do it next month, cue next credit card bill and increasing rage!!!
    Finally did it to only realise they had some World Cup Qualifiers I wanted to see.
    I think a mate of mine who is not as patient has never managed to cancel – $12 every month not much but enough, luckily I can always go to his house now if there’s something I want to see

  • I always look for an alternative if it is available for this very reason.
    Recently, my daughter wanted me to sign up to an online game that she plays that has an auto renew feature (which we had previously paid for a number of months whilst her older brother no longer used it).
    The solution? I “purchased” a gift voucher for the site online (this site also has them in some stores) as a one off purchase and used that for a 12 month subscription, if she is still interested in 12 months, I’ll do the same.
    This may not work on many porn sites however.

  • I had this with ($50 odd, which I got out of). I just emailed them nicely and explained I can’t afford it, and would just cancel it at my banks end (credit card) if they couldn’t do it. Worked quite well.

  • holy shit perfect timing. I’d totally forgot about an auto renew email i received a month ago. that was due to auto renew in a few days.
    You just totally reminded me lifehacker!! THANKS!!!!!

  • It’s not right and I’ve decided to do something about it through
    Please read and sign the petition if you agree…
    Let’s make a stand! Cheers, Jane. ?
    State and federal members of parliament : Get your money back if don’t want a subscription renewed. – Sign the Petition!

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