Skip to navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Consumers spend £688 million on unused subscriptions in the last year

8 March 2024
  • Citizens Advice warns current plans going through Parliament to tackle subscription traps will fail to fix the problem as it finds consumers are shelling out millions on accidental subscriptions

  • The charity warns these subscription ‘traps’ - easy to get into, yet difficult to cancel - are putting consumers off companies and products

New research from Citizens Advice has found that over 13 million people (26% of UK adults) have accidentally taken out a subscription in the last 12 months. These subscriptions cover services from fitness apps to food delivery services, and repeat pet food to magazine subscriptions.

The charity is warning that the problem of subscription traps is deepening, as it estimates unused subscriptions have cost consumers £688 million in the last year. This is up £382 million from £306 million Citizens Advice found when it last looked into the problem at the end of 2022.

Of those who ended up with an accidental subscription the most common reason was because it auto-renewed without their knowledge (40%). This is followed by people who took out a subscription for a free trial but forgot to cancel later (39%). And worryingly, almost one in four (24%) people who have ended up in an accidental subscription thought they were making a one-off purchase.

Citizens Advice is warning that failure to tackle subscription traps is not only a risk to consumers - who could end up parting with more money than they originally bargained for, or can afford - but it is also a risk to businesses. Over half (54%) of people said that they have decided not to sign up for a subscription due to concerns about how difficult it would be to cancel.

With three quarters (74%) of UK adults supporting a ban on automatic subscription renewals where consumers haven’t actively agreed to it, the charity is calling on the government to clamp down on this practice in the upcoming Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill. Citizens Advice wants to see consumers offered a choice over whether their subscriptions are subject to auto-renew, and over whether they want to continue to a subscription service at the end of a free trial.

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

 “With budgets increasingly squeezed and living costs often exceeding the amount people have coming in each month, it’s vital consumers feel in control of their spending. 

“Companies relying on people forgetting to cancel at the end of a free trial is an unacceptable business model that exploits busy, cash-strapped consumers.

“While the government has acknowledged subscription traps are a problem that need to be fixed, the plans laid out in the upcoming Consumer Bill risk failing to fix them. We need to see the root cause of subscription traps tackled head on. Consumers should be offered a choice over whether their subscriptions auto-renew and whether they want to continue after a free trial.”

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice commissioned Opinium to undertake polling exploring consumers experiences of subscriptions. Polling took place between 26 January - 1 February 2024, with a sample of 3,000 UK adults, weighted to be nationally and politically representative.
  2. The total cost spent on unused subscriptions is based on the proportion of adults who report they are currently paying for a subscription they are not using, and the average amount being spent on these unused subscriptions per month, multiplied by 12 to achieve a yearly total.
  3. 2022 data taken from a nationally representative polling of 3,002 UK adults commissioned by Citizens Advice and conducted by ICM Unlimited between 11 - 21 October 2022.
  4. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
  5. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free.
  6. Citizens Advice helped 2.66 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2022-23. And we had 60.6 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 16,000 trained volunteers, working at over 1,600 service outlets across England and Wales.
  7. Citizens Advice is the largest provider of free, multi-channel debt advice. Providing that help gives Citizens Advice unique insight into the types of debts people struggle with.
  8. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.