In a weak moment after the break up of my 30-year marriage, I signed up for a dating site, eHarmony. After paying the subscription for the first month, I realised it wasn’t for me and cancelled that evening. The next morning my bank informed me that eHarmony had attempted to take £65 from my account.
I then found lots of angry online reviews claiming that the company charges £65 for the “personality profile” based on a questionnaire that you have to fill out during the registration process. There’s no mention of this charge on the website, or in the terms and conditions. I’ve refused to pay, but have received several emails demanding it.
MB, Totnes, Devon
Amid the cyber-jungle of dating agencies, it’s easy to see why eHarmony was appealing. The company, which claims to have created 2 million successful relationships in 20 years, was founded in 2000 when online dating was in its infancy. At its zenith its revenue was reportedly $250m a year and actor Ben Stiller used its services in the 2013 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Its UK website claims to be the “No 1 trusted dating app” according to an unspecified survey. But something is badly wrong. Online reviews tell the same story of customers drawn in by starry promises, then clobbered by a mysterious £65 when they cancel their membership within the statutory 14-day cooling-off period.
To see for myself, I signed up to what is trumpeted as a free service. Integral to the registration process is a lengthy questionnaire about traits and tastes. This instantly generates a personal profile. There is no mention of a £65 fee. The terms and conditions allude to a deduction of “reasonable” costs if a contract is cancelled within the cooling-off period, but a profiling charge is not specified.
The “free” service turns out to be almost useless. Photographs of matches are blurred out and customers can only communicate with potential suitors by designated emojis. For fuller interaction, customers are invited to pay a monthly fee with a 50% discount, but these fees are not what they seem.
The recommended “premium plus” option promises 12 months of membership “from £9.95”. You have to squint at the small print beneath the payment form on the next page to discover that a £3-a-month instalment fee is added to this, and that the monthly cost nearly doubles to £22.90 three months in.
A year’s membership, therefore, costs £244.95. And unless you remember to cancel at the end of the 12 months, it rolls over to the following year.
What do you get for this? Not much, apparently. Reviewers complain of unsuitable matches from random parts of the country. I asked eHarmony why customers are not alerted to the £65 fee and it claimed they were required to tick a box accepting the charge during the membership purchase process. When pressed, it clarified that the box appeared after the payment had been completed.
It ignored requests for a screenshot. “EHarmony honours all cancellation requests made during the cooling-off period, subject to deductions for services already provided,” it says. “Having purchased a premium membership, customers are presented with a dedicated web page that includes key membership terms and conditions. Here they are asked to tick a box confirming that they would like to access their subscription immediately, and therefore consent to the £65 charge for services received during the first 14 days.”
This would appear to be in breach of the Consumer Rights Act, which requires key terms and conditions to be explained and accepted before a contract is agreed. Terms added afterwards are not legally binding. Moreover, if a customer cancels within 14 days, costs can only be deducted for services already rendered and those must be reasonable. I asked eHarmony how £65 was a reasonable sum for a computer-generated profile, but it did not respond.
As for the sneaky £3 supplement added to the monthly membership charge, eHarmony explained it was a “small” sum for those who choose to pay in monthly instalments. It did not reply when asked whether the free service allows customers to arrange to meet potential matches and whether those who paid for membership were refunded if they cancelled within 14 days.
You did, eventually, receive your subscription payment back and eHarmony agreed to waive the £65 as a “goodwill gesture” when you said you’d contacted the media.
At the start of a new year there will be many people looking to start a new relationship. Don’t be beguiled by seductive websites until you’ve checked out the reviews. You should, of course, study the small print, but that wouldn’t have been of much help to MR, who should consider reporting her experience to trading standards.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include an address and phone number. Submission and publication are subject to our terms and conditions