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.
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?