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Update: Brexit – what would a good outcome for consumers look like?


Now that Article 50 has been triggered it’s essential that consumer groups, businesses, regulators and governments come together to ensure that we help to secure the best outcomes for consumers.

Today Which? and BEUC (the umbrella European consumer organisation) held a joint conference to focus on how we can secure a positive outcome for UK and EU consumers from Brexit.

We believe that consumers across Europe will have broadly similar objectives as we look at the impact of Brexit on consumer rights, financial services and food. Our aim today was to help identify where we have common ground as we all navigate the changes to this relationship.

Consumer interests

Throughout our 60 year history, Which? has played a key role in campaigning to secure a number of the safety protections that all EU consumers now enjoy.

Back in 1964 we campaigned to promote use of lead-free paint on toys and for safer electric blankets. We have lobbied to shape key UK and European consumer law, including the Unfair Contract Terms Act in 1977, the Consumer Safety Act in 1978 and the Sale of Goods Act in 1979.

Many UK consumer rights and protections hail from the six core EU consumer directives, as well as the Consumer Rights Directive. But there are also some UK additions, and as a nation we have often decided to go beyond the minimum rights set at an EU level.

Governments and regulators should not assume that the core six directives are the only concerns for consumer organisations. It is essential to recognise that consumer rights cut across every sector of society.

It is also short-sighted to think that consumer interests are confined by hard borders or within one member state. As consumers increasingly buy cross-border and access services such as bank accounts when travelling abroad, we must think beyond physical boundaries.

The ever-increasing mobility of both leisure and business travellers also means that consumer interests will continue to be enmeshed within and outside their home country.

Brexit and consumers

In the past couple of months, both Which? and BEUC have published some key principles as a rough guide to negotiations, with consumer interests in mind. This has shown the similarities in the priorities for consumers on both sides of the Channel.

Firstly, we both recognise the need for negotiators to take account of the impact of Brexit on the cost of living. To prevent competition being limited, and consumers from being harmed, it’s essential to maintain affordable access to goods and services.

Secondly, we agree that governments must ensure that essential consumer rights are maintained or even strengthened. Many of the rights that consumers have come to expect are currently shaped and determined at EU level.

Safeguarding consumer protection and safety is also important. This includes delivering a robust framework for product safety and standards.

Both BEUC and Which? expect to see a robust and ambitious system of consumer enforcement. Global markets need co-ordinated enforcement and systematic dialogue between regulators, so it’s key that the effectiveness of the enforcement system mustn’t be watered down.

Finally, it’s essential that full account is taken of consumer interests in the Brexit process by negotiators on both sides in order to deliver a good deal for consumers.

These are the issues we were debating alongside BEUC and other consumer organisations, businesses and experts at today’s conference, and we would like to hear your thoughts too.

Update: 22nd August 2017

The UK government has announced its proposals to ensure consumer protections remain in place following the UK’s exit from the EU in March 2019. The same plans will look to keep goods already on the market in the UK and EU on sale in those regions..

The publications also urge the EU to widen its definition of the availability of goods on the market to include services, in order to provide full legal certainty and avoid disruption for consumers and businesses.

The proposals call for:

  • UK consumer protection watchdogs should continue to have access to information about unsafe products, such as medicines and food, and ‘mechanisms to take action with respect to non-compliant goods’.
  • Guarantees that goods on sale before exit day, in March 2019, can continue to be sold in the UK and EU, without any additional requirements or restrictions.
  • Products that have been authorised for sale in the EU, such as approval for a certain model of a car, should remain valid in both markets after exit.

Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive of Which?, said: ‘It’s right for the Government to seek certainty for consumers, who will want to know that they can still get the products they value the day after we leave the EU. If consumer confidence is to be maintained, consumers must be a much more fundamental part of the Government’s Brexit strategy.’

The government has also suggested that cross-border business disputes could become lengthier and more complicated unless Britain secures an agreement to continue co-operation arrangements with the EU post-Brexit. According to the government it’s vital for both British and EU businesses and consumers to agree ‘coherent common rules’ for civil cases following the UK’s withdrawal. In the case of no deal being reached UK citizens may have to fall back on international rules that officials accept are slower and less effective.

At present these are government proposals. The final outcome will depend on progress made during negotiations.

What do you think of the proposals? Do you have any concerns regarding your consumer rights following Brexit?

Lisa says:
8 January 2018

Hi, i bought some hair straightners as a christmas gift for my niece from littlewoods online, they were on promotion. After christmas they went back up to full price but i need to return them as they have developed a fault. I dont want a refund i want another set but will i have to pay the difference or will it be a straight swap ??


Within the first 30 days you can reject faulty goods for a refund However, you have the option of requesting a replacement. The price paid should not enter into it.

Jacqueline Smith says:
12 January 2018

Hi I bought a vax standup hoover from Tesco in October 2017 very disappointed I got it as I’ve got oak floors all in my house after 8 weeks it’s not lifting all the bits on the floor it tends to push it away so I have to lift the hoover or use the hose attachment to suck it up how do I stand with getting my money back thank you

a. cotton says:
15 January 2018

I am a online jeweller. A customer is demanding a refund on a faulty item ( which i have agreed to as well as saying i would replace it if needed ) however i have not recieved the item back. Do i have to refund even though i havent recieved the item. I have asked for proof of postage or a tracking number and have been told he hasnt got one


No. You are entitled to inspect the article and be satisfied that it is faulty before making a full refund or replacement.


I’m not sure you should have offered a refund without seeing the faulty item because the customer could have damaged it, but perhaps they provided photographic evidence. It is unreasonable to expect you to provide a refund if you have not received the goods and the customer cannot provide any evidence. As John says, you need to be sure that the goods are faulty and have not been abused.

I should be polite and reason with them but if they take legal action I cannot see them winning. Best of luck.

Jay P says:
16 January 2018

Hi. If you bought a central heating radiator online on the 1st May (delivered 3rd May), and then had it installed in June. Subsequently, on the 12th November you found that it had a split. For the purposes of your rights under the Consumer Act does the 6 months run from the date of purchase, the date of delivery, or the date of installation?


From when you receive the goods:
Time limits for exercising remedies
The consumer’s rights regarding goods form part of the contract between the trader and the consumer. Except where a time period is stated in the Act (for example, the 30-day right to reject), this means a consumer can enforce a remedy for up to 6 years after the consumer receives the goods, or 5 years in Scotland.


The key date is when the goods were delivered and not installed. During the first six months, the fault is presumed to be present at the time of manufacture whereas after six months (until the deadline mentioned by Malcolm) you may be expected to obtain a professional opinion as to the nature of the fault.

There is likely to be a manufacturer’s guarantee in addition to your statutory rights under the Co