A couple who were fined £100 by a hotel in Blackpool for leaving a bad review on Trip Advisor (describing the hotel as a "rotten, stinking hovel") have had their fine refunded after a strong public reaction, and an investigation by trading standards.
The couple spent one night in the hotel paying £36 for a double room. However, little did they know they had unwittingly signed a contract which stated that any negative reviews would be subject to a £100 "fine" – per review.
After posting negative feedback on the travel website, the £100 fine was deducted from their credit card. However, the hotel was investigated by Blackpool trading standards and warned that the practice could be illegal.
Here we look at why as a consumer you can't be unfairly treated in this way, or be held to terms of agreement that are unfair.
What can't business owners do?
The law looks to protect consumers from unfair commercial practices and unfair contracts. Commercial practices are anything that a trader does get customers to buy their goods or services. This could be the way they sell, any advertising or marketing and creating incentives for customers.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations set out clearly what unfair commercial practices are. These regulations seek to make sure that traders act in a way that is open and honest, giving customers all the information they need to make informed buying choices.
By putting in place a penalty in order to discourage customers from writing bad reviews, the Blackpool hotel was being dishonest with its future customers. This means it is likely they were in breach of the regulations.
Furthermore, the law protects consumers from unfair terms in contracts. When you buy goods or services from a trader, you are entering in to a contract with them. The contract will have certain terms and conditions outlining what you and the trader have agreed to.
However, some contract terms are unfair because they give the trader an unfair advantage or take away your legal rights. The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 outlines when a contract term will be unfair.
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For more information on hotels in Blackpool, see Trip Advisor.