How early can firms take your money with auto-renewal? Writer Sue Hayward got an unpleasant surprise when her anti-virus software subscription was renewed earlier than expected.
As a consumer journalist, I’m always banging on about why you should never set anything up for auto-renewal, including insurance, subscriptions and memberships.
For me, it’s seen as a sneaky way for a firm to dip into your bank account year after year, as chances are, we forget to cancel.
Unfortunately, this means we miss out on the chance to shop around or haggle to bring down the price.
To add insult to injury, in many cases, premiums are often hiked up substantially over future years.
No opportunity to negotiate
So, as you might imagine, I never set anything up on auto-renewal.
Yet somehow, as I discovered to my cost, my Norton anti-virus software subscription was set up this way.
After much investigation, I’ve now discovered this is due to its Virus Protection Plan. To qualify for this service, the small print says you ‘must be enrolled in the auto renewal service.
Blissfully unaware of this, I had a note in my diary to remind me my subscription ran out at the end of July as I intended to try and haggle down whatever renewal price came my way.
When an email from Norton popped up recently, I assumed it was an advance reminder.
Yet four days later, on 28 June, I got another email confirming my ‘Security Standard Subscription’ was renewed and my debit card had been automatically charged £49.99 – more than double the price I’d paid last year!
On checking my bank account, I found the payment left my account on 1 July; nearly a whole month before my subscription ends on 27 July.
So, I was straight on the phone to Norton, as taking the money hot on the heels of their reminder and a month ahead of renewal, seemed like a sneaky trick to me.
Yet Norton’s customer service team assured me this was ‘usual practice.’
But when I threatened to pull the plug, (after spotting a 60-day refund option in the super tiny small print), I was quickly offered a refund of £25 to stay.
This however may take up to 10 working days to find its way back into my account.
At this point, I had now been promised a 50% refund, which meant I would only be paying £5 more than last year for the same cover.
But even allowing for the fact I inadvertently opted in for auto-renewal, this practice of taking the money so far in advance just seemed wrong.
Getting in touch with Norton’s media office was a little tricky.
After three tweets and an email to Norton’s parent group Symantec, someone from the media team got in touch.
After explaining my situation, I was told this was correct as existing customers should get an email around 30 to 45 days before a subscription ends.
“This should give you a decent amount of time to explore your options, so you can adjust your plan, change the number of devices you want to protect and check your current payment details are correct” said a Norton spokesperson.
“Payment may be taken between two weeks to one month before your subscription ends.
“This is intended as a ‘buffer,’ so you don’t have your service interrupted.”
Norton’s spokesperson was quick to point out its 60-day refund option on auto-renewals, yet this ‘get out clause’ is printed in tiny small print at the bottom of its emails.
And I do wonder just how many people spot this or actually ask for their money back?
Can Norton auto-renew before a contract ends?
The answer is no, according to Martyn James, head of media and marketing at free independent resolution service Resolver.
“A business should not be auto-renewing you in advance of the date your contract elapses,” commented James.
“It should only do this on, or after the original contract ended”.
Incidentally, James admits he too has been caught out with Norton’s auto-renewal system in the past.
Auto-renewals are tough to check
It’s not easy to check which insurances or subscriptions are set up on auto-renewal, warned James.
“As consumers we can get lists of direct debits or standing orders from our banks or card providers, but we can’t get lists of continuous payment authorities that are lurking on our accounts, which means the responsibility of auto-renewal is shifted on to the customer,” said James.
So, I’ve now already logged in to my account, cancelled the auto-renewal and got an email to confirm this has been done.
If you’re a Norton customer, my advice is to take five minutes to check if your account is set up for auto-renewal.
If it is, and you’re not happy with this, it’s a two second job to turn it off and potentially save money in the process.
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