Photography Body Subscription Hassles

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Lindsay
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#1
Hi everybody, I do hope I've put this in the correct part of the forum.

I've done some reading about consumer rights but there are still a couple of things I'm unclear about regarding refunds and cancellations, and I would be very grateful for some help and advice.

A year ago (on the recommendation of a good photographer I know) I took out a subscription (paid once yearly) to a UK photography Institute (not one of the 'main four'). At that time, their website was very sparse and I don't recall having sight of any detailed terms and conditions of membership. Anyway, a few days ago I received a PayPal notice that my subscription renewal had been paid. It seems their system is set up to automatically take the payment each year. I hadn't found the membership to be useful and so I immediately e-mailed them (within 2 minutes) saying I would like to cancel and gain a refund. I received no response. I sent another request on Wednesday. Still no response. Meanwhile, their website has become more comprehensive and under their FAQ they state that once membership has been paid it is not refundable. Can they do this?

Here is where I'm confused. I was under the impression that with Distance Selling Regulations I would have the right to a 14 day cooling off period during which time I can cancel the service and get my money back (less any time in which I used the service). However I have also read that a Continuous Payment Authority (such as the way they are taking recurring payment from Paypal) can be problematic. In fact there is no issue with cancellation, I can just log into PayPal and remove the instruction. So no problem there - but what I actually want is a refund for the payment they have just taken. Can somebody please advise me on my rights, and what I can do?
 
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Storm Trooper
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#2
I would expect your best route for a refund is through paypal it's self, explain that you hadn't signed up for continuous renewal and they should refund you.
 

MWHCVT

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#3
I think recently the the DSR was rescinded and a new group of laws replaced them and those are something that I'm not all that au fait with if I'm honest, however with a subscription renewal I'm not so sure as you'll get a cooling off period even with an auto renewal...
L
 
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Lindsay D
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#4
I would expect your best route for a refund is through paypal it's self, explain that you hadn't signed up for continuous renewal and they should refund you.
I don't think I can do that unfortunately - it seems that when I signed up for the subscription a year ago, I agreed to recurring payments through Paypal. My concern is that in having agreed to that, there may not be a way for me to get a refund.
 
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Lindsay D
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#5
... with a subscription renewal I'm not so sure as you'll get a cooling off period even with an auto renewal...
L
Yep, that's exactly what I'm trying to ascertain, but I can't seem to find the answer. That said, I'm annoyed that the institution in question has simply ignored both my messages - you would think they would at least write back and explain my position to me.
 
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#6
I don't think I can do that unfortunately - it seems that when I signed up for the subscription a year ago, I agreed to recurring payments through Paypal. My concern is that in having agreed to that, there may not be a way for me to get a refund.
A refund is likely to be at their discretion as you originally signed up for recurring payments ... what you should do is ensure that you have now cancelled that recurring payment in your Paypal account to avoid it happening again :)
 
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Lindsay D
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#7
Yes, I'll definitely cancel the recurring subscription - I'm just disappointed that I have had no response to my enquiries asking for a refund, particularly as I did this immediately. I was hoping I might have some recourse to consumer law.
 
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#8
Just a thought does said institution have a registered postal address? If so send a notice of cancellation and request for a refund perhaps stating that you were so to speak an earlyadoptor member and that the terms were not at that time explicit in regard to renewal cancellations ( maybe the web "way back machine" not sure of the URL? Has the old archived pages?) Saying that as you have not seen the benefits of membership you had hoped for and wish to terminate the subscription and have a refund as appropriate.
Oh make to send it to a named individual and Signed For service.

I hope you can get it sorted amicably. NB as for the current terms re no refunds I wonder if that could be seen as "unfair terms...."???
 
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Lindsay D
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#9
I put all of those points into my first e-mail, but didn't get a reply. I can certainly try the registered letter route (if there is a postal address).

Yes, I was wondering if the no refund policy might be seen as unfair, or even how I could enforce that if it was. Perhaps I should try to get an answer from someone at Trading Standards/CAB.
 
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#10
I don't think I can do that unfortunately - it seems that when I signed up for the subscription a year ago, I agreed to recurring payments through Paypal. My concern is that in having agreed to that, there may not be a way for me to get a refund.
That's my point with paypal as the terms and conditions were not clear when you signed up for your subscription. Give them all your information and let them make the decision.

Ive had to open a few disputes with them through ebay and they have always been very helpful when sellers have been a little dishonest.
 
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#11
AFAIK consumer law doesn't protect anyone who has simply changed their minds and decided that they no longer want the product. If their terms have been accepted at the outset, and all amendments have been forwarded to the customer then the customer has little recourse, even though the customer has never bothered to read the small print of any changes to terms and conditions.

If either the terms at the outset or as notified in any amendments state that annual subscriptions can be taken then OP is probably relying on Goodwill to obtain any refund.
 
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Lindsay D
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#12
That's my point with paypal as the terms and conditions were not clear when you signed up for your subscription. Give them all your information and let them make the decision.

Ive had to open a few disputes with them through ebay and they have always been very helpful when sellers have been a little dishonest.
I see what you mean - bypass the photography Institute and take the request straight to Paypal - I'll give that a go, thank you.
 
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Lindsay D
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#13
AFAIK consumer law doesn't protect anyone who has simply changed their minds and decided that they no longer want the product. If their terms have been accepted at the outset, and all amendments have been forwarded to the customer then the customer has little recourse, even though the customer has never bothered to read the small print of any changes to terms and conditions.

If either the terms at the outset or as notified in any amendments state that annual subscriptions can be taken then OP is probably relying on Goodwill to obtain any refund.
That's what I thought unfortunately. When I took out the subscription I don't think I had sight of the cancellation terms, their website was extremely sparse. I also hadn't realised that I had signed up for recurring payments and I thought that when my next subscription was up for renewal I would receive a reminder the month before (like I do with the other bodies I belong to). I looked a few days ago on their website and they now have an FAQ which does state that there will be no refunds.

I suppose I was simply wondering if that was legal under current consumer legislation - I thought it was normal distance selling and that I could cancel within the designated period.
 
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Ian
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#14
When you clicked the 'pay' button with PayPal there would have been a notice about recurring payments. PayPal have that on their payment scheme for all recurring payments. You can raise it with them but unless you can show that there was some error either with the vendor (the institute) or PayPal I suspect you'll come up short. I know PayPal cover themselves carefully on this one.
 
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Steven
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#15
If PayPal charged your account via direct debit you can try your bank and claim on the dd guarantee on the grounds you weren't advised off the charge.
 
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Lindsay D
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#16
When you clicked the 'pay' button with PayPal there would have been a notice about recurring payments. PayPal have that on their payment scheme for all recurring payments. You can raise it with them but unless you can show that there was some error either with the vendor (the institute) or PayPal I suspect you'll come up short. I know PayPal cover themselves carefully on this one.
Yes, I can imagine PayPal would cover themselves for everything. Still, I will raise it and see what they say.
 
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Lindsay D
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#17
If PayPal charged your account via direct debit you can try your bank and claim on the dd guarantee on the grounds you weren't advised off the charge.
It doesn't use a direct debit Steven (at least not in the traditional sense, where you fill in a direct debit form), PayPal just extracts the money from your account in the usual way when the subscription is due. I may have a word with my bank though, just in case they can advise me.
 
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#18
If it's a professional sub aimed at professionals then consumer law may not apply at all as its b2b so their terms are what matters. If you didn't read them and didn't notice the PayPal recurring sub then it's probably tough luck.

This is why if you sign up for anything as a business you have to be very careful.
 
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#19
It doesn't use a direct debit Steven (at least not in the traditional sense, where you fill in a direct debit form), PayPal just extracts the money from your account in the usual way when the subscription is due. I may have a word with my bank though, just in case they can advise me.
Check your statement, if it's not a card payment then it's almost certainly a direct debit whether you fill out an old school form or not is irrelevant. The question is more can you shoe horn it into the direct debit guarantee, not being advised of the payment being due is one of the categories.
 
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Lindsay D
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#20
It isn't aimed just at professionals Suz, anybody can join. As I recall, there weren't any detailed terms and conditions when I first joined up, but it's quite possible that the PayPal system could have made that statement somewhere. I made the mistake of thinking that I would be informed each year when my subscription was due, even with the recurrent payment in place (a couple of the other bodies I belong to do this), but as you say it could well be my fault for not being vigilant enough. I suppose I just wanted to know if I could get a refund under the distance selling regulations.
 
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Lindsay D
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#22
Check your statement, if it's not a card payment then it's almost certainly a direct debit whether you fill out an old school form or not is irrelevant. The question is more can you shoe horn it into the direct debit guarantee, not being advised of the payment being due is one of the categories.
As I recall it's just a normal PayPal withdrawal using my debit card, but I'll double check the direct debit side of things.
 
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#24
If it's aimed at anybody then you've got a much better chance of getting the money. I'd start with PayPal and say before it was due to renew you weren't sent anything about cancelling in time to cancel. There may be some small print in PayPal terms about informing buyers about cancellation when a renew/cancel time has been reached.

Citizens advice consumer direct are your best bet. Bank will be no use as PayPal pay first then take the money so it isn't a direct transaction.
 
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#26
I imagine you'll have a fight to get the payment that has already been taken. While recurring payments absolutely have there benefits some less scrupulous companies rely on forgetful consumers / clients to tie them in. Not saying that is the case here but see how the phone call goes on how rigorously they enforce their terms.

If you get nowhere with them time to name the company involved, good luck!
 

big soft moose

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#27
Here is where I'm confused. I was under the impression that with Distance Selling Regulations I would have the right to a 14 day cooling off period during which time I can cancel the service and get my money back (less any time in which I used the service). ?
I suspect that DSR (or replacement legislation) may only have aplied to the original purchase ie 14 days from the point at which your first joined, so that may be a dead end. As others have said asking paypal directly may be an option , and also speaking to your bank (my bank account includes free legal advice on this sort of thing as part of the service package - so you might want to check if yours has anything similar)

I tend to suspect (although i'm not a lawyer so take it with a pinch of salt) that its not lawful for them to charge for a service they havent provided, so the no refund after payment clause may be unenforceable if you took them to court ... trouble is that a court action would cost more than you'd get refunded.

The other possible route open to you though is that you are a well known and well respected photographer , is it really in their interests to have their sharp practice with you publicised ? - of course you have to be careful in putting that over , but any organisation with half a brain will realise that the costs of refunding you are significantly lower than the reputational costs of not doing.
 
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#28
Automatic payments by cards or paypal are a modern blight. Most notify you the new years charge before the due date and thereby the opportunity to cancel.
Getting mony back if you miss the notice period is certainly problematic.
In my opinion only a cowboy outfit would just take the money.
 
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Hugh
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#29
TBF if it's the one of the smaller organisations who gave me a free lifetime membership a couple of years ago they are normally good at sorting things like this out with a minimum of fuss
 
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Lindsay D
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#30
Well, this particular organisation has totally blanked me so far so I think I can assume they're not interested in resolving this. I did speak to PayPal and they said that as far as their role is concerned, all I could do is open a dispute. As advised above, I'll also have a word with my bank.
 
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#31
If you get no joy then an article in Amateur Photographer warning people away from the organisation should do the trick ;)
 
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#32
If they do not settle............
A bit of naming and shaming would do no harm.
Provided you stick to the facts they can have no come back.
At least you will know that others will be duly warned.

Some times to do the right thing does have a cost. But in this case it would be no greater than the sub you paid.
 
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Lindsay D
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#33
Well, Paypal have confirmed that there is nothing untoward going on in terms of how these payments are being managed, but I'm still none the wiser with respect to any cancellation rights I might have as a consumer. I will look into that, to satisfy my curiosity if nothing else. I know that in the past when I've taken out yearly magazine subscriptions I've been able to cancel them at any point (paying only for the part of the subscription I had already used). PayPal are also saying that it's nothing to do with them, they just handle the payments and any dialogue must be between the buyer and the merchant. PayPal also said that my bank could help, but only if I had asked the photographic body to cancel my subscription before it was due, and they had then taken it.

Looking at my PayPal account, I have three automatic payments set up - the other two always send me an advance warning the month before the money leaves my account.

So it looks like I'm stuck with the years membership, given the lack of response from the provider. It would have been professional of them to respond to me in order to clarify my position, even if their reply included confirmation that they do not refund under any circumstances. The fact I was blanked is bad form in my opinion and poor PR.

Oh well, you live and learn.
 
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#34
Do indeed live and learn, sorry you got caught out though Lindsay.

Have to be very organised with these automatic renewals and others that give a free trial period before taking payment, Amazon Prime springs to mind

They all hope that we forget, I'm a lot more diligent since I retired with reduced income, have to own up to being caught in the past.
 
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big soft moose

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#35
i still think you should name and shame - if only to save others from the same mistake. Its not that organisation where the founder gave himself a fellowship is it ?
 
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Lindsay D
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#36
Have to be very organised with these automatic renewals and others that give a free trial period before taking payment, Amazon Prime springs to mind

They all hope that we forget,
Agreed - I wasn't vigilant enough in understanding the automatic renewal process, and I hoped that my (immediate) request for termination and refund would have been dealt with. I'll not make that mistake again!

Pete - it was the NPS. After joining (which I did during a promotion and following a recommendation) I discovered that this particular organisation didn't offer any real benefit for me (although I'm sure it is of value to many other photographers) so I decided I wouldn't renew the membership when it became due. I had of course overlooked the automatic renewal process.

I'm a member of several bodies and they all send me a letter or e-mail pre-warning me when my membership (usually paid by direct debit) renewal fee is due - this helps me to make sure that the funds are ready and it also gives me warning should I ever want to cancel. I'm not saying that the automatic renewal process used by the organisation I've just named is underhand, but I do think it catches a few people out. I think that considering it's a large lump sum of money for a whole years membership, it's quite a drastic way to collect the fee.
 
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#37
Not sure about the UK, but being strict, as a financial and business record there would be a requirement for NPS (now we know who :) ) to keep the terms and conditions that applied to your joining at the time.
Not saying that it's an 'out', especially if they're not responding, but they couldn't automatically exclude or ignore your request either.
Australian privacy legislation requires that you provided with the opportunity to see what information they have on you, and to correct it if necessary. Would failure by NPS (did I say NPS?) to produce said information (ie through request, the transactions and T&Cs applying at the time) be illegal?
Good luck Lindsay!
 
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Lindsay D
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#38
That's quite interesting Scott, I'll look into whether it applies here. When I first joined the information on their website was sparse, I don't recall seeing the cancellation terms but of course I'm relying on memory so it's equally feasible they were there somewhere. They have since put the terms on their website, which I think would apply to recurring membership. I suspect I am out of luck on this one. They can of course apply any discretionary measures they wish, but apparently not in this case.
 

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#39
@Lindsay D - Good decision to name and shame. It also makes it easier for people to help.

Here's the bit of small print in their terms and conditions which has tripped you up:
* Membership is non refundable. Once a member has joined The NPS their membership will run for the duration of one year unless revoked by The NPS. A member may cancel at any time but their fee for the current year will at no time be returned.
* Memberships renew automatically on the anniversary of joining in the case of annual membership or monthly on the same day if a monthly plan is in force. To cancel membership of The NPS you should login to your PayPal account and cancel the payment from there.
http://www.thenps.com/rules-of-membership-code-of-conduct-and-terms-and-conditions/

But here's an archive of the same page from May 2012. The second bullet point - the one about membership renewing automatically - was NOT there.

http://web.archive.org/web/20120508...bership-code-conduct-and-terms-and-conditions

Unfortunately the Wayback Machine doesn't have any archives of this page more recent than May 2012, so it's not possible to determine exactly when the page was changed.
 
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