/ Home & Energy

How can we protect consumers after Brexit?

The Government must protect rights and access to good quality and affordable products after Brexit. Our guest, Kelly Tolhurst MP, the Consumer Minister, sets out how this can happen.

This is a guest post by Kelly Tolhurst MP. All views expressed are Kelly’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

In the UK, we have a long history of strong consumer protection. UK consumers enjoy high standards and trust they will be protected.

In the most recent EU Consumer Conditions Scoreboard, the UK came top of the EU for consumer trust in organisations, retailers and service providers.

It also showed that UK consumers are the least exposed to illicit practices from domestic retailers; these include things like persistent sales calls or fake limited time ‘offers’.

Which? has played an important role in achieving this success, providing well-researched advice to consumers and acting as a valued independent voice advocating for the interests of consumers.

Maintaining rights and protections

Consumers in the UK rightly expect those rights and protections to be maintained and to develop as the economy and society change. Many have concerns about the impact of Brexit. The Government is committed to ensuring that after Brexit consumers continue to be protected.

There are a number of ways in which the UK has gone further than the EU, for example, we legislated in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 for a bespoke regime to protect consumers buying digital content ahead of many other countries.

Leaving the EU with a deal remains the Government’s top priority. Of course, we are preparing for all possible outcomes, and so planning for an exit without a deal will continue too.

The Government will progress with its extensive preparations to ensure the country is ready for every eventuality.

In any scenario, it is crucial that people get the right information so you know what’s changing and what’s not changing. Our general advice remains the same – know your rights, read the terms and conditions, and only make the purchase if you have trust and confidence in the seller.

It’s important to emphasise that your consumer rights when buying in the UK will not change whether we leave with a deal or not. The Government has taken the necessary steps to ensure that UK consumers buying from UK traders will not see any differences in their rights or protections.

Issues that may require your action

There are however other issues where there are differences and you may need to take action.

Around now many of you will be thinking about your holidays so, for example, you should check if you need to renew your passport.

Or if you want to drive in the EU after we leave, you may need to get an International Driving Permit from the Post Office.

I am pleased to see Which? has launched its Brexit hub providing lots of useful advice to address these consumer issues. Other consumer organisations have some very helpful guidance as well.

The Government also recognises its duty to inform consumers about how leaving the EU will affect you and advise on the steps you need to take to prepare for Brexit.

This is why we have set up a platform to help people easily find the latest information on any aspect of Brexit, with the actions you may need to take.

Visiting www.gov.uk/euexit will help you find out information such as whether you need to renew your passport; what you need if you want to drive in the EU; how your consumer protections may be affected and many other things.

Your feedback

I encourage you to have a look. Keep checking back as these pages will be kept up to date.

Your feedback will also be used to improve them so please use the tools provided to help us make it ever more useful.

Which? has emphasised the importance of a Brexit that works for consumers. I agree.

We start from a strong position with well-established consumer rights that will remain after we leave. We also have to deliver the stability and continuity that consumers want and the Government will continue its commitment to deliver the best outcome for the people of the UK.

This was a guest post by Kelly Tolhurst MP. All views expressed were Kelly’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Do you have concerns about consumer protections after Brexit? What are the issues that matter to you the most?

Comments

Welcome Kelly and thanks for your Conversation.

I have not studied the implications of Brexit but I would not agree that we have strong consumer protection in all respects. Here are three examples that I have experienced and others have confirmed:

1. Many retailers will refer customers with faulty goods to the manufacturer, rather than complying with their legal obligations.

2. Trading Standards can no longer be relied to help individual consumers if they have problems with goods or services.

3. Dangerous electrical products that do not comply with legal requirements are on sale, especially online, and some can be identified from photos/reviews. I have not found a way of having these investigated and removed from sale.

Yes we need to preserve what consumer protection exists following Brexit but the government must face up to dealing with existing problems. I have little confidence that the Office for Public Safety & Standards is making much progress to protect consumers.

Wavechange, with regard to point 1, on which you are absolutely correct as usual, you might be interested to know that if a retailer misleads you that you have no rights after the expiry of a manufacturer’s warranty with the intention that you pay for repairs for which it is potentially liable, then it is breaching Regulation 5(4)(k) of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. This is potentially an offence under Regulation 9 punishable under Regulation 13 by a fine and/or up to two years’ imprisonment. There needs to be more enforcement of this.

Thanks very much for the information, NFH. That’s one of the most useful bits of information I have learned through Which? Convo. Here is a link to the regulations: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2008/1277/pdfs/uksi_20081277_en.pdf

I might do a little staff training in Currys next time one of their employees tells me to contact the manufacturer when I have a faulty product. 🙂

Kevin says:
20 April 2019

There is plenty of legislation (often byzantine) regarding sale of goods and services. Many companies are actually just defrauding or stealing from their customers. If a company persistently ignores the regulations and fails to train and monitor their staff, the company and the management responsible for their behaviour should be prosecuted for these simpler offences.
Too much of the consumer regulation and enforcement is like ritual combat; the antagonists turn up to court, go through the motions, and then everyone carries on in the same way until the next time.

What the UK lacks is an effective policing of products to remove those that are unsafe/dangerous/non=compliant with the UK’s (and currently the EU’s) regulations. If you want to really protect consumers you need to deal with this, and heavily penalise those who seek to evade the regulatory system.

What we also need to introduce quickly is a means of (maximum) product recall to ensure purchasers are informed about a dangerous product they have bought and have it dealt with. I’d suggest compulsory registration at the point of sale.

What bothers me is the complacency in this intro, rather than recognising deficiencies that need to be addressed. Perhaps Which? is not passing on Convo comments to Government?

DerekP says:
18 April 2019

As someone well aware of the consumer protections gained through EU membership, I’d certainly hope these are maintained going forwards.

Some matters that affect personally me include:

Having motor insurance that automatically covers EU countries, without the need to pay for additional cover when driving on the continent.

Having reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU, so I don’t need to take out medical insurance if holidaying there.

Not having to pay exorbitant roaming charges, when using mobile phones in the EU.

If the UK is the least exposed to persistent sales calls, it must be an absolute nightmare for other EU countries. Nuisance sales calls might have reduced somewhat, but scammers intent on fraud are still very much making people’s lives a misery.

It is despicable that BT make money out of people’s misery by selling them call blockers instead of blocking calls for everyone before they to get to their destination. All telecoms companies should be stopping these calls traversing the networks but until the government forces them to they are unlikely to comply. Number spoofing is rife, so all unused and unpaid for phone numbers need to be blocked.

Back in December 2018, I considered buying an air-fryer. These are some of the “brand names” I found on Amazon:
Adler Europe, Andrew James, Aigostar, Aobosi, Aucma, Blusmart, Camry, Casart, Cecotec, Cooks Professional, Coopers, Cosori, Costway, Crzdeal, Cuisinier, Dihl, Duronic, electriQ, Fineway, Geepas, Gold-tec, Gourmetmaxx, GWO, Habor, Heska, Holaroses, Homgeek, Hyvaluable, JML, Jocca, KBKG2421, Kalorik, Klarstein, Koolle, KWZGKX, Livivo, Lloytron, NeoChef, Netta, Nomen, NuWave, Omorc, Ovation, Princess, PureMate, Quest, Rackaphile, Rayem, Rendio, RSTJ-Sjaf, Selcng, Sensio, Sentik, Severin, SimpleTaste, Sodial, Ss, SXMXA, Tidylife, Tiluxury, TKG, Uten, Vitinni, VonShef, Vpcok, YS, Wrapok, ZZAZXB.

Some of those “brand names” will be for identical products ordered from China with any name you like printed on them. They can be bought in bulk from around 8US$ each. How safe are they? Heat and oil is a recipe for disaster if the product is dangerous.

I absolutely agree with the above comments by wavechange and malcolm on dangerous products and that much needs to be done to get them removed them from sale and heavily penalise those who trade in them.

Something also needs to be done to stop fake reviews that can persuade people to buy unsafe products.

I would also like to see a stop put to traders using virtual offices as addresses. They must use the actual address they trade from not hide behind multiple names and virtual offices.

The UK has always had much stronger consumer protection than other European countries, an example of which is the Consumer Rights Act 2015 which Kelly correctly points out. Our stronger consumer protection can put British businesses at a disadvantage compared to their international competitors in other European countries who are subject to weaker consumer protection. Membership of the EU has allowed the UK to impose a huge amount of our strong consumer protection legislation upon the rest of Europe, ensuring a fairer level playing field for British business. However, the Leave campaign instead focussed misleadingly on the negligible amount of resisted legislation that is imposed upon the UK by the rest of the EU. A departure by the UK from the EU will lose the UK’s significant influence over consumer legislation applied to 30 countries of the European Economic Area. Did those who voted to leave the EU consider the loss of the UK’s rule-making role or did they naïvely consider only their emotional and ideological goals?

Kelly, we need strong legislation to protect job applicants against fake job advertising and misadvertising

I’ve seen hundreds of scam jobs advertised on job websites in the last few years, and I know thousands have applied to them and been scammed out of their time and money. The Advertising Standards Authority is useless and doesn’t refer anything to Trading Standards or the police

Some of these scammers later threatened social media websites, who then deleted what scam victims had said

We also need stronger laws to deal with door to door selling, telephone selling and charity fundraising

As Malcolm says above, we usually have the laws but lack the enforcement capacity [or willingness in some cases].

I am completely out of touch with the world of job advertising nowadays. How are scammers making money out of false adverts? The ASA does have scope to deal with dishonesty and misrepresentation on websites so there might be technical or definition reasons why they cannot deal with scam job advertisements. Have you asked them to explain? Have you had any complaints about specific adverts rejected? It would be interesting to know more.

The problem isn’t just a lack of enforcement, but a lack of understanding and awareness that this type of scam exists

The fake adverts describe a job that turns out to be something different, with harsh work conditions and low pay. Job interview attendees aren’t interviewed. They’re given a sales pitch on why it’s great to work for the employer and how rich they’ll be if they stick with them for a few years. They’re then tricked and pressured into cutting contact with relatives and friends if they question anything. If a victim talks, they’re fired and what little pay they’ve acumulated is kept by the scammer

ASA doesn’t do anything useful even if they find the job advert misleading. Telling a scammer to change a job advert doesn’t make the scam go away. They change their name and office address and keep going

To a considerable extent the question of how to protect consumers after Brexit [if it ever happens! – there seems to be little sense of urgency] depends on trust in the government. Like environmental protection, and workers’ rights, there are justifiable fears that after the UK steps out from under the EU umbrella, a lot of the protections will be revoked or abandoned or have their sustenance denied in a desperate attempt to become extra competitive in world markets. I wouldn’t rate trust in the government very high right now as it seems to have adopted a policy of serial expediency. Why should we believe the government would become more diligent once released from the influence of the EU. I have not heard any pledges to maintain the UK’s alleged supremacy in consumer protection after Brexit or even to maintain level pegging. We should be aiming to take the best examples in each sector from the other states of Europe and form them into a coherent and comprehensive charter of consumer rights and protections underpinned by a mandate to keep pace with positive developments elsewhere. My suspicion is that the UK government will respond that such a stance will impose costs and liabilities on UK companies and put them at an international disadvantage so the Intro to the Conversation could be disingenuous to say the least. I should like to be proved wrong.

comp says:
26 April 2019

Long distance selling and warranty laws need to be updated

I bought a gaming computer for thousands of pounds. Didn’t find out about many problems and poor performance until after the 30 day returns period had expired. Now I’m stuck with something that isn’t fit for purpose, and other owners have said elsewhere the repair technicians try to cheat them by claiming any damage they find is due to water in the circuit board, and the owner’s fault

Anything sold by long distance needs a 90 day no quibble returns period, and expensive computers need a guarantee by law that their retailer and manufacturer will deal will all problems for up to 3 years, repair, replace or full refund

Keyboards and laptops with keyboards need health and safety law to guarantee they won’t cause finger injury like repetitive strain injury with long hours use

Another example

I bought an expensive leather item over the internet from a British manufacturer. Turns out on looking at it, one half of the item is made of a cheaper quality, rougher feel and thinner leather, and it’s a slightly different colour too. The manufacturer’s website never said it would be like this

Sales goods laws need to be updated. Bought lots of items from companies on sale, turns out they’re all either seconds quality or have imperfections and defects in them. The websites never said this or showed it. And when I return them, I have to pay for postage and packaging back to the seller. If I’m taking it back myself, I have to pay the transport cost to the seller and back home

Despite the inconvenience involved, I believe it is essential to continue using physical outlets for important or expensive purchases. To my mind distance selling on-line opens up too many opportunities for the unscrupulous and most people I know admit that they have retained defective or unsatisfactory things that they would have returned to a shop if bought there. I have regretted a number of on-line purchases – not major or expensive things or totally unacceptable faults, but they continue to grate and niggle.

You can claim under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 for repair or replacement [generally at the retailer’s choice] within six months of purchase, but I note your concern that the pre-repair examination might be undertaken dishonestly.

The Which? Guidance on the Act says that if you discover the fault within the first six months of having the product, it is presumed to have been there since the time you took ownership of it – unless the retailer can prove otherwise. During this time, it’s up to the retailer to prove that the fault wasn’t there when you bought it – it’s not up to you to prove that it was.

If an attempt at repair or replacement has failed, you have the right to reject the goods for a full refund, or price reduction if you wish to keep the product. The retailer can’t make any deductions from your refund in the first six months following an unsuccessful attempt at repair or replacement. See –
https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/consumer-rights-act

All these consumer protections are fine if you are dealing with a decent and law-abiding seller but the internet cannot give such a guarantee, unlike a mail order advertisement in a newspaper which is how distance selling first started.

socks says:
1 May 2019

Debit cards should have the same protection as credit cards when something goes wrong.

If I use a credit card to buy something between £100 and £30000, and it becomes faulty or wasn’t as described, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act applies and the credit card company is liable. I can get my money back.

If I use a debit card, I’m not protected. The retailer can refuse to give me my money back. I can maybe do a chargeback, but most retailers will refuse to let you be a customer after that and won’t sell you anything more.

So debit cards and credit cards should have that same protection, and it should start from £50 instead of £100. And the government should make sure that retailers continue to let someone be their customer after a dispute, if the customer wants.

I suspect the high interest charges on credit cards fund the protection. A debit card has no charge and simply authorises money to be immediately moved from your account on your instructions, a little like paying in cash, or the delayed payment with a cheque. It seems a simple choice to me to use a credit card where protection is deemed worthwhile. There is discretion on refunds from debit cards – https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/shopping/visa-mastercard-chargeback/

socks says:
2 May 2019

I’m not sure that’s the only funding. If someone makes a Section 75 claim, the credit card company gets the money back from the retailer after refunding the customer.

And although debit cards don’t charge a fee for buying something, our banks and building societies still make money from us keeping our money with them. We get very little interest. Some current accounts give 0% interest.

Also not everyone wants a credit card or can afford the high interest if they don’t fully pay off the balance at the end of the month.

socks, all true, but the processes all involve costs that someone has to fund. For those who do not want to spread payments using a credit card, but want the protection it offers, the collation of payments each month, and pays it off monthly as many do (including me) then such a card is very handy.

socks says:
3 May 2019

I think the law needs to say a lot more on consistency and durability.

I buy a lot of socks every year, and every pair wears out in around 3 weeks. I don’t do a lot of walking, and I have a soft carpet. I’ve been told here I can maybe return them for being faulty, but it’s not really the same thing as having bad durability. The government needs to add in something about products having good durability to last a long time.

I have to buy a new kettle every year, because the electrical contact ring in the middle becomes faulty or wears out. One kettle was thrown away because it had limestone leaking out of the seams. It was suppose to be a completely sealed kettle, but somehow water was finding its way out and leaving limestone behind after drying up.

I have to buy new cups every year, because the top clear glaze wears out with washing to show the dark lead glaze underlayer, which I’ve heard causes cancer. Some scratches in the glazing turn brown, which I’ve been told is a bacteria breeding ground.

Product consistency needs to be law as well. I look at socks in a shop for an hour. Most packs will have hard, rough or scratchy cotton, only 1 or 2 will be soft. If I had ordered over the internet, there would have been no way to know if I was receiving a hard cotton or soft cotton one, though they’re suppose to be the same since it’s all from the same product range.

It’s the same with towels. Recently received delivery of some towels. Some were soft, some weren’t and are going back. This shouldn’t be happening because it’s all suppose to be made from the same cotton, but it isn’t. And my return cost isn’t being refunded to me.

And most towels I’ve seen in shops will be thicker on one side than the other, either left and right, or top side and bottom side. Some towels will also be thicker or thinner than each other, though they’re suppose to be the same. And they will all have their cotton loops woven in different directions to each other, so some will be better at absorbing water than others and feel different in use. There’s no consistency in quality.

Socks – There is no legal requirement for product quality and all that is necessary is to comply with relevant standards. There is no requirement for products to be repairable or to hold spares. Kettles used to have a replaceable heater (element) but now these are generally built into the base. That has various advantages but if the heater dies then the kettle is scrap. One brand has a replaceable base with the heater but the kettle has to go back to the manufacturer and I doubt the repair will be cheap. A very common problem with kettles is leakage beside the water level gauge.

If a kettle is under guarantee, the retailer is likely to exchange it for a new one, otherwise you can make a claim under the Consumer Rights Act. That is often far more difficult than it should be and retailers often try to push the responsibility onto the manufacturer, who has no legal responsibility, though they can be helpful.

The glaze on china has got dreadful in recent years. Some time ago, I bought Alex Clark mugs described as fine bone china. The bottoms of the mugs soon turned brown and only bleach would whiten them again, not something you really want to do. We have a couple of Starbucks mugs bought in the US, that have become our daily tea and coffee mugs. They clean easily and the glaze is as good as the day we bought them with no discolouration.

socks says:
14 May 2019

I hope the government will do something about all the diluted and watery eau de toilettes being sold on Amazon. They get 5 star reviews from people who bought them in high street shops, but when I order them from Amazon, they come very diluted and watery, with a faint smell that only lasts a few minutes.

I don’t think they’re counterfeit. They’re either at the end of their shelf life, or they’re made to be dilute and watery so they can go on sale at a low price.

It’s the same with shower gels too. I know someone who works for a supermarket. I’ve been told it stocks two types of the same shower gels. One for full price and one for special offers and half price sales. I find the ones I buy on offer are diluted and watery. They foam less and have a weak smell.

I also went to a pound supermarket last week. Most of the packaged foods and condiments they had were lower price than the big supermarkets, but they were also a month or two away from their expiry or best before date. There weren’t any warning cards on shelves about this. When I went to a big supermarket, the same items had over half a year to go for their expiry.

comp says:
22 May 2019

A famous youtube blogger Louis Rossmann has said we should have a Right to Repair our own machines and computers

Some companies don’t let us take our phones, tablets and computers to third party repair companies, and insist we use their ones and their branded components like batteries

They also don’t let us use third party data recovery, and want us to buy new machines and loose our old data

They make machines to only last a few years so we have to buy new ones. These things should be lasting more than 10 years, they’re not cheap

Some printer companies use software to stop us using unbranded ink refils in our printers

Windows 10 forces updates when we don’t want any. We can turn off updates in the menu but it’ll still update itself anyway and restart

If someone hijacks a domain name we own, it’s very hard to get it back. If a domain name registrar holds our domain name hostage, it’s impossible to transfer it to another registrar. The government needs to make a domain name registration service that can make registrars give up and move a domain name to where its owner wants