Printers being remotely disabled if customer cancels ink subscription 

The monthly ink deals that come with a catch: Now firms are disabling your printer cartridges over the internet if you cancel your subscription

  • Customers pay between 99p and £22.49 a month for HP’s Instant Ink service 
  • The printer is permanently online so the cartridges can monitor the ink levels 
  • When they are running low, new ones are automatically delivered to your door
  • But the firm will remotely disable the cartridges if subscription is cancelled 

When Nicola Wordsworth urgently needed to print an important medical document for her elderly father, her printer wouldn’t work. There was nothing wrong with it and it had a full ink cartridge inside.

It turned out the manufacturer, HP, had remotely disabled the machine because she had cancelled her ink subscription.

Nicola, 54, is one of many furious customers who have flooded social media with similar complaints.

Frozen out: HP customers who paid for the firms ink subscription service are furious after the firm disabled the ink cartridges in their machines after they quit the service

HP’s Instant Ink service is heavily promoted in high street stores to anyone buying a printer.

Customers pay between 99p and £22.49 a month depending on how many pages they need to print. 

The cartridges monitor ink levels and when they are running low new ones are delivered. HP claims the service is up to 70  per cent cheaper than buying standard cartridges.

Epson and Brother offer similar services but HP’s is by far the most popular, with around ten million subscribers worldwide. Subscriptions soared over lockdown.

But there’s a catch that is rarely made clear to customers: if you cancel your subscription, your cartridges will be remotely disabled — even if they still contain ink.

When Money Mail visited a London branch of Currys, we discovered that none of the promotional leaflets and posters mention this. It is not explained in the cancellation section of the small print either — but buried in an 8,000-word terms and conditions document.

The one-line mention states: ‘When your service is cancelled for any reason, HP will remotely disable the subscription cartridges and you will no longer be able to print with [them].’

Automatic refills: HP customers pay between 99p and £22.49 a month for the company's Instant Ink service depending on how many pages they need to print

Automatic refills: HP customers pay between 99p and £22.49 a month for the company’s Instant Ink service depending on how many pages they need to print

Nicola, from Kent, subscribed when she bought her printer five years ago, paying around £1.99 a month. But when she gave the printer to her 83-year-old father she cancelled it, as he would only need it occasionally. She had no idea this meant the printer would stop working.

‘There was lots of ink still in the cartridge,’ says Nicola, who runs eco-friendly dog products business Pup Suds. ‘It’s my printer — I bought it and own it — and I paid for that cartridge, yet I was blocked from using it because I wasn’t paying an ongoing fee.’

In the end Nicola resubscribed in order to print the medical document. ‘I feel cheated to be honest,’ she says. ‘Now I’m signed into a subscription for something I don’t need, just because I wanted to print out one thing — and I can’t cancel in case my dad needs to print something in future.’

HP says customers will be able to use their printer again if they purchase a regular cartridge.

But this was not the case for photographer Aina Gomez, 38, who says her printer wouldn’t connect to her new wifi connection after she moved house. It was otherwise fully functional and contained an ink cartridge, but wouldn’t work even when she tried regular HP cartridges. And despite paying £3.59 a month, customer services have not been able to resolve the problem.

‘I’m going to have to throw it in the bin because no one can use it,’ she says. ‘It’s only two years old and a terrible waste.’

An HP spokesman says: ‘Cartridges delivered as part of an Instant Ink subscription will only work while a printer is enrolled in the HP Instant Ink service.

‘If the subscription has been cancelled, customers can continue to use their printer with standard cartridges and return their Instant Ink supplies for recycling.’

[email protected]