Brexit – what’s going to happen to your consumer rights?

05/07/16 - On 23rd June, the UK voted to leave the European Union

One of the main arguments from the Leave campaign was the amount of regulation – what they called the crippling amount of rules and red tape coming out of Brussels.


Now all that could change.

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So what does Brexit mean for your consumer rights? What protections might you lose? What might you gain? And when?

Hurry up and wait
Until we officially leave the EU, its directives – including those concerning consumer regulations, will still apply to us. So nothing changes until we go. And that could take a while. Firstly, ‘Article 50’ of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal legislation that triggers the UK’s official departure from the EU, allows up to two years for negotiations to extract us from the EU.

Given the complexity of that task, you can expect those two years to be fully used up. And even then, the UK will not trigger Article 50 until after David Cameron leaves Downing Street in September.

Staying in the single market means sticking to the rules
There’s a lot of negotiating to be done over this, but what is clear is that all sides of the Brexit debate want to stay in the single market. This will almost certainly mean sticking to most of the EU’s rules and regs over the provision of goods and services. So don’t expect to see massive changes to your rights there.

In short, whether our country’s consumer regulations are officially drawn up by Westminster or Brussels, they are still likely to align quite closely with what we have today. This is especially true since the Consumer Rights Act, the most significant piece of consumer legislation in decades, was enacted less than a year ago.

One of the biggest reasons people use is to raise a complaint about flight delays. There are very clear rules here surrounding compensation for EU-regulated flights. It’s possible that the UK could ditch these rules, but Non-EU Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland all stick with them, so in all likelihood, the UK will, too.

Roaming charges
The EU had been one of the biggest drivers of cheap roaming charges within its borders. With the UK outside the EU, all bets are off as to what mobile operators might do…

What we do know is that the tendency of companies in a situation like this is to take advantage of rules to grow their revenues

The economic uncertainty generated by Brexit means a weaker pound. This means your money won’t go as far when you convert it to euros, so expect to see your Mediterranean beach getaways get much more expensive. Holidays further afield might fare better as the pound’s exchange rate with the US could bounce back far quicker than with the euro.

Your rights as a holidaymaker shouldn’t change too much, though. UK tour operators will still be bound by UK law, and ABTA’s code of conduct, and will still be regulated by the 1992 package travel laws.

Meanwhile, for the most adventurous sort who don’t like the restrictions of travel packages and organised tour operators, again very little changes. If you book direct with your providers of accommodation or travel, these will still be regulated by local law in the countries in which these companies operate or are located.

Appealing when things go wrong…

Currently, the top level of civil court a British citizen can take an issue to is the European Court of Justice. However, this only applies to problems covered by EU law. Post-Brexit, it’s unlikely that the European Court of Justice will hear cases from Britain, and so the Supreme Court will be the highest judicial body to which you can go.

Of course, the big caveat here is that we do not know how much of the EU’s structure Britain will still have access to. And we might even be able to join the Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Area States, which plays the same role as the current EU Court of Justice.

For human rights issues, we will also still adhere to the rules of the European Court of Human Rights, as this runs under the auspices of the Council of Europe, which we in the UK will remain a part of.

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