Mental Health Charity backs crackdown on subscription retailers who ‘trap’ vulnerable consumers


Ahead of the Government’s planned crackdown on subscription retailers in their consumer green paper, figures released by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute have revealed for the first time the impact on the most vulnerable consumers.

Research by the charity found that people with mental health problems are more likely to be buying things on subscription, and more likely to say that they’ve delayed cancelling these due to forgetting or struggling to make telephone calls. The charity first raised this issue in spring 2016, and are backing the Government crackdown.

Money and Mental Health’s new research found:

  • 71% of people with mental health problems have bought things on subscription, compared to 58% without.
  • People with mental health problems are twice as likely to have bought flowers, craft materials or other treats on subscription, with 14% having done so compared to just 6% without.
  • Of consumers with mental health problems who said they had delayed cancelling a subscription, nearly a quarter (23%) reported that difficulties making phone calls meant they had struggled to cancel – three times as many as consumers without mental health problems (8%).
  • Four in ten (43%) said they delayed cancelling because they kept forgetting, compared to 34% of consumers without mental health problems in the same situation.
    A fifth said they were worried that the company would pressure them to stay if they called (21%) and nearly one in ten (9%) said they simply didn’t know how to cancel.

Previous research by the charity has found that consumers with mental health problems are both more likely to struggle to control their spending in a period of poor mental health, and more likely to struggle with financial management or communication. This makes subscription retail both particularly tempting, and particularly risky.

Money and Mental Health is calling for:

  • An end to automatic subscription at the end of trial periods
  • Credit accrued with retailers to be fully refundable at any time, rather than stocking up ‘credits’ that can only be spent in that storeAll customers to be able to cancel online or by email, not just by telephone or letter.

Commenting, Polly Mackenzie, Director of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said:

“The growing trend for retailers to offer goods on subscription may be convenient, but it comes at a cost. We’ve all been there; accidentally letting a subscription run on past the free trial and having to pay for a month before cancelling. But for many people with mental health problems this can be a much more serious issue.

“If crippling anxiety means you struggle to make telephone calls, cancelling a subscription can feel impossible. Or if you’ve disengaged from your finances in a period of depression, noticing that the free trial turned into a not-so-free monthly subscription can take time. People with mental health problems are three times as likely to be in problem debt, and subscription retail is making this worse.”




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Contact: Helen Undy, 07827917829, [email protected] for all media enquiries including interviews with spokespeople.


Notes to Editors

  • The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute was set up by Martin Lewis in spring 2016, registered charity number 1166493.
  • It conducts research and develops policies for banks, lenders, regulators, the health service and government to help people with mental health problems protect themselves from financial difficulties and get out of debt.
  • Polly Mackenzie is the Director of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. She was previously Director of Policy for the Deputy Prime Minister, working in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office, from 2010-2015.
  • Martin Lewis OBE, Money Saving Expert, is an award-winning campaigning broadcaster, newspaper columnist and author. He founded in 2003 for £100 and remains its full-time Editor-in- Chief. It is now the UK’s biggest money site, with more than 14 million monthly users. Martin has his own prime-time ITV programme – The Martin Lewis Money Show – and is resident expert on This Morning, Good Morning Britain and BBC Radio 5 Live’s Consumer Panel, among others.
  • Figures in this release are drawn from a representative survey of 2051 people conducted online by Populus on behalf of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute between 9th and 11th December 2016. Data was weighted to be nationally representative. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules; for more information