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

Brexit

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?

Comments
Member

I’m sorry, but unless PV-S is willing to engage with the people to whom he’s addressing this, I feel it’s an exercise in futility. Mr Peter Vicary-Smith has never, ever engaged on any of the Which? forums and closed the original, ground breaking forum down. You should be aware, Mr V-Smith, that talking at people isn’t the best way to communicate.

Member

Hi Ian, I know that this has come up previously but I’d like to reassure you that this isn’t an opportunity to talk at you. We’re aiming to facilitate discussion Brexit and consumers and ensure that important consumer issues are forgotten in negotiations, and while we have views of our own which have been outlined above, we’re keen for your input on this too.

Member

Missing a “not” line 3 Lauren.
Specific issues were not really given above, which is why I suggested it was without substance (sorry, I am not diplomatic, am I?). I’d like specific problems that need resolution being put forward by Which? Many of us will not know just what particular issues might, or might not be problematic. Which?, I hope, will.

Member

Lauren: I really appreciate that you and the rest of the team do engage, and engage positively. This was more of a long standing issue I have, to be honest, but it seems MrV-Smith does not really grasp the true potential of the digital presence in Which? and how it can be effectively employed, not only to gain ideas and views, but to enhance and develop what Which? is doing, what it should be doing and how best it can go about realising the core aims of the institution. All that requires that he engages, but I fear that’s a forlorn hope.

Member

Sounds like a wish list without substance. I’d like specific proposals from Which? such as getting a proper Trading Standards working, enforcing the Consumer Rights Act, having a more dedicated Consumers Minister, seeing Which? engage with BSI, get Whirlpool customers sorted out with working dryers now, not telling them to unplug them……..In other words do what already needs to be done.

I’d like a link (must have missed it) to the talks with BEUC to see what was discussed and what the proposals were.

I haven’t seen Which? members approached through Connect on Brexit. That might be a good thing to do.

Safety Standards will remain in force because they allow us to trade with Europe – and many other countries. We have better consumer law than Europe – 6 years instead of 2 to bring a claim – if only it was properly supported. Presumably food safety will comply with the EU so we can export.

Please take the initiative Which? as the Consumers Association and tell us what you want to achieve when we eventually depart the EU, and where you see contentious issues. Then we can discuss.

Member

Hi Malcolm, there’s no relevant link I can give you at the moment, but you can see some of the commentary from today’s conference here: https://twitter.com/hashtag/brexitconsumers?src=hash

Member

Thanks Lauren. Will the proceedings be published by Which? and BEUC?

Member

Much has been said about -once we are “free” we will make our own decisions and that was the motivation of the Leave voters they want to see this country rule itself not still be governed by the EU . This rhetoric was