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Which industry has the most confusing terms and conditions?

When entering a contract with a new service provider, it’s important to run through the terms and conditions with a fine-tooth comb, particularly if these terms and conditions will shape your obligations and expectations for years to come. However, following reports that customers are being greeted with unexpected plan amendments and sneaky clauses, it would appear that Brits aren’t as familiar with their rights and responsibilities as we might expect, often due to jargon, wordiness and phrasing.

Keen to discover which industry and providers have the most confusing terms and conditions, energy switching site SaveOnEnergy conducted a study of the top five providers terms and conditions from six different sectors. From this, we calculated an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level for each, along with an estimated reading age and reading time. The terms and conditions were then ranked, and the highest Flesch-Kincaid Levels were rendered ‘most confusing’.

Which industry has the most confusing terms and conditions?

According to our study, the banking industry has the most confusing terms and conditions, boasting the highest average Flesch-Kincaid Level of all the industries studied (14.7). In fact, our study found that it takes an average of 42 minutes and 52 seconds to read the terms and conditions provided by banks, and the average reader age is 18 and over - or someone at university level.

We found home insurance providers have the second most confusing terms and conditions, with an average Flesch-Kincaid Level of 12.6 and an average reader age of between 16 to 18 years. Interestingly, the terms and conditions provided by the home insurance industry also took the second longest amount of time to read on average, at an estimated 96 minutes and 25 seconds, which equates to just over an hour and a half of your time - more than double the average concentration span for Brits!

The industry with the third most confusing terms and conditions is mortgage lenders, with an average Flesch-Kincaid Level of 11.8 and an average reading age of between 16 to 18 years. Although this is the case, mortgage lenders’ terms and conditions took far less time to read on average - just over 30 minutes.

TV providers have the fourth most confusing terms and conditions, with an average Flesch-Kincaid Level of 8.5 and an average reading age of 13 to 15. On average, it is estimated to take around 40 minutes and 16 seconds to read the terms and conditions set out by the TV industry.

The industry with the fifth most confusing terms and conditions is the broadband sector. Our study found that the average Flesch-Kincaid Level is 7.8 for the terms and conditions within the industry and that the average reader age is between 12 to 13 years. Interestingly, the broadband industry’s terms and conditions took the longest amount of time to read all studied sectors - an estimated 367 minutes and 11 seconds, equating to just over 6 hours!

Energy providers have the least confusing terms and conditions of the six industries studied, with an average Flesch-Kincaid Level of 7.5. On average, it is estimated that the energy sector’s terms and conditions take around 35 minutes and 44 seconds to read and that the average reader age is between 12 to 13 years.

Which banking provider has the most confusing terms and conditions?

According to our analysis, Starling Bank has the most confusing terms and conditions of all banking organisations studied. With an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 11.7 and an estimated average reading age of between 17 and 18 years, it is estimated that Starling Bank’s terms and conditions take almost half an hour to finish reading.

First Direct has the second most confusing terms and conditions of all banks studied, with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 10. However, it is estimated that First Direct’s terms and conditions take twice the amount of time to read than Starling Bank’s terms, estimated at 63 minutes and 22 seconds in total.

The banking provider with the third most confusing terms and conditions is Revolut, with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 9.7 and an estimated reading age of 14 to 15 years.

Monzo has the fourth most confusing terms and conditions, with a slightly lower estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 9.4, despite their terms and conditions estimated to take just over 14 minutes to read.

Taking almost an hour to read, Metro Bank has the fifth most confusing terms and conditions, with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 9.3.

Which energy provider has the most confusing terms and conditions?

With an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 8.6, Outfox the Market has the most confusing terms and conditions of all energy providers studied. It is estimated that it takes roughly 36 minutes and 35 seconds to read their provisions and that their terms have an estimated reading age of between 12 to 14.

People’s Energy has the second most confusing terms and conditions, with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 7.5 and an estimated reading age of 11 to 13 years.

The energy provider with the third most confusing terms and conditions is Octopus Energy. Our study found their provisions were estimated to have a Flesch-Kincaid Level of 7.3 and take an estimated 31 minutes and 44 seconds to read.

Avro Energy and Pure Planet followed, respectively, as the energy companies with the fourth and fifth most confusing terms and conditions. Avro Energy’s terms and conditions are estimated to have a Flesch-Kincaid Level of 7.2, whilst Pure Planet’s terms have an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 6.8.

Which TV provider has the most confusing terms and conditions?

Looking specifically at TV supplier brands, we found Sky to have the most confusing terms and conditions, with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 12. On average, it is estimated that it takes 73 minutes and 3 seconds to read Sky’s provisions and that the estimated reader age of them is between 17 to 18 years.

Virgin followed as the TV provider with the second most confusing terms and conditions, despite their terms estimated to take only 13 minutes to read on average. Virgin’s terms and conditions have an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 10.9 and an estimated reader age of 15 to 17 years.

According to our research, TalkTalk has the third most confusing terms and conditions, with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 7.6 and an estimated reader age of 11-13 years.

Meanwhile, BT has the fourth most confusing terms and conditions, with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 7.4. Plusnet, which followed, has an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 4.5 and an estimated reader’s age of between 8 to 9.

Which mortgage lender has the most confusing terms and conditions?

Our analysis of mortgage lenders terms and conditions found First Direct has the most confusing terms and conditions. Their T&Cs are estimated to have a Flesch-Kincaid Level of 20, despite only taking an estimated 27 minutes and 24 seconds to read.

Yorkshire Building Society is the mortgage lender with the second most confusing terms and conditions, with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 12.2 and an average reading age of between 17 to 18 years.

With an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 10.9, Leeds Building Society is found to have the third most confusing terms and conditions of the mortgage lenders studied after our analysis found their policy takes an estimated 37 minutes and 38 seconds to read.

Nationwide and Principality both followed, with estimated Flesch-Kincaid Levels of 9.1 and 6.4, respectively. This led them to rank among the five mortgage lenders with the most confusing terms and conditions.

Which home insurance provider has the most confusing terms and conditions?

When it comes to home insurance providers, Barclays Bank has the most confusing terms and conditions. Their T&Cs take an estimated 38 minutes to read, despite having an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 13.3 or 18 to 19-year-olds.

Taking an estimated 181 minutes to read and an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 12.9, NFU Mutual is the home insurance provider with the second most confusing terms and conditions.

Meanwhile, Tesco Bank ranked as the third most confusing home insurance terms and conditions, with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 12.5 and an estimated reading time of just over 106 minutes.

LV and John Lewis followed as the home insurance providers with the fourth and fifth most confusing terms and conditions, with Flesch-Kincaid Levels of 11 and 10.6, respectively.

Which broadband provider has the most confusing terms and conditions?

Utility Warehouse has the most confusing terms and conditions for broadband providers with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 10.3 and an estimated reading age of 14 to 15 years.

Meanwhile, Hyperoptic has the second most confusing terms and conditions of the broadband providers studied. Their provisions have an estimated reading time of 76 minutes and 43 seconds, as well as an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 9.6.

Zen Internet is the broadband provider with the third most confusing terms and conditions, with an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 8.9 and an estimated reading age of between 13 to 15.

With an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 5.3, the Post Office has the fourth most confusing terms and conditions of the broadband providers studied and has an estimated reading time of almost 40 minutes.

Despite having one of the shortest reading times, Plusnet placed as the broadband provider with the fifth most confusing terms and conditions. Although it is estimated to have a reading time of 5 minutes and 24 seconds, Plusnet’s terms and conditions have an estimated Flesch-Kincaid Level of 4.7.

Why should terms and conditions be simplified?

All of the industries discussed target customers throughout the UK with their services, and whilst many companies require their customers are over the age of 18 to enter these contracts, some individuals over the age of 18 may also struggle with their literacy and comprehension - particularly where jargon is involved.

For this reason, it is vital that terms and conditions are simplified enough to make them accessible for all and that they have shorter reading times and younger reading ages on average.

The UK Government echoes this need in their policy for their own content writers by stating:

“GOV.UK guidelines advocate that written content should meet the minimum reading age of 9 years, to ensure it is easily understood. You might consider an adult with additional learning needs or an elderly relative with dementia trying to understand your information.”

Methodology:

  1. SaveOnEnergy.com/uk analysed Which? ‘Best of’ lists for the top five providers of broadband, electricity, home insurance, mortgages, bank accounts, and TV services. Which? Nominate their 'Best of' lists through customer satisfaction surveys.

  2. Once the lists were compiled, SaveOnEnergy then extracted the terms and conditions from each respective provider.

  3. Then, utilising Readability Formulas, SaveOnEnergy.com/uk calculated the Flesch-Kincaid readability score for each terms and conditions. The Flesch-Kincaid score was used as it is the most widely recognised scoring model, developed by the U.S. Military and then later refined to align with the US educational system; it is calculated by the following formula: (0.39*(total words/total sentences))+(11.8*(total syllables/total words))-15.59.

  4. They further estimated the reading time for each terms and conditions document through Niram.org.

  5. Finally, SaveOnEnergy.com/uk calculated the arithmetic average reading level and arithmetic average reading length for each industry to determine the final rankings.