June 2016 eBulletin: ECC Ireland’s summer holiday tips and warning that Brexit does not affect your EU consumer rights
The summer holidays are well and truly in full swing. If you’re yet to jet off to somewhere sunny, discover a new city, or about to go on a new adventure, then it might be wise to first take the time to familiarise yourself with consumer rights when travelling abroad and our summer holiday tips.
Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ll undoubtedly know that the UK referendum dealing with the question of its membership of the European Union took place on June 23rd with the result of 52 per cent voted in favour of a Brexit while 48 per cent voted to remain. What this means for the UK’s relationship with other EU Member States, as well as issues such as consumer rights in relation to transactions with traders or consumers from the UK, is yet to be determined – it will take some time before the repercussions are truly felt. For the purpose of this ebulletin we’ve put together a brief overview of what media reports, statements, comments and concerns that have been published since the shock result.
As always, we also have the consumer query of the month which is very topical in light of Brexit. It concerns an Irish consumer who was told by a UK-based trader that she could no longer avail of her right, under EU consumer law, to a 14 day ‘cooling-off’ period “due to Britain leaving the EU”. Incorrect statements such as this does raise concerns and ECC Ireland would like to advise consumers, and traders, that it’s business as usual until further notice.
You can download a PDF of the June 2016 eBulletin or continue on reading below.
Summer holiday tips: Your consumer rights, healthcare, travel, roaming and more
The countdown to your holiday away has started – you’ve bought the sun lotion, printed the tickets, and wondered if a 20kg bag really is big enough? Just in case you’ve left some things out we’ve put together some summer survival tips on consumer rights, accessing healthcare, your rights travelling by air, or by sea, car rental, and roaming.
Before you go on holidays:
- Apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – This card allows you to access emergency healthcare in the public system of any EU/EEA country or Switzerland. You can apply for the card and get further information here.
- Avoid paying excess fees at the airport by weighing your luggage before you leave and checking that your carry-on luggage is within permitted dimensions.
- Ensure you have all relevant travel documentation and valid photo ID. The Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK means that there are no passport controls in operation. However, since air and sea carriers require some form of identification (e.g. passport or passport card) make sure you familiarise yourself with these requirements. As Ireland is not part of the border-free Schengen area you must still show a valid ID card or passport when travelling to and from the country. Don’t forget to print off your boarding cards, if necessary.
- Download the ‘ECC-Net: Travel’ app. This app, which is available for Android, iOS (iPhone, iPad), and Windows, provides a range of useful information and advice on common problem areas encountered abroad. It covers retail purchases, car rental, air travel, rail travel, bus/coach travel, travel by sea, accommodation, health, and other useful information.
- If your flight is cancelled, EU legislation states that you must be given a choice between re-routing to your final destination or a refund. If your flight is delayed for more than two hours (depending on distance of the flight) passengers must be offered free meals and refreshments, two free phone calls, emails, or faxes. If the delay is at least five hours passengers can opt for a full refund if you decide not to fly. Where a stay of one or more nights become necessary, passengers must also be offered hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the place of accommodation. Find out more about flight cancellation and flight delay.
- If your luggage is lost or damaged by an airline, you can claim compensation under the Montreal Convention. Fill out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) at the relevant baggage claims desk and ensure to keep all receipts for all necessary expenses. Write a formal letter of complaint to the airline immediately as strict time limits apply to claims – 21 days for delayed luggage and 7 days for damaged luggage.
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While on holidays:
- The Package Holidays and Travel Trade Act 1995 protects consumers who have booked a package holiday. If something goes wrong report the problem to the local representative or the organiser giving he/she the opportunity to remedy the situation at no extra cost. If the problem is not resolved, gather as much evidence as possible to support your case and submit your complaint in writing to the organiser within 28 days of returning home. ECC Ireland has further information on package holiday rights.
- If you’re renting a car while abroad make sure to familiarise yourself with the terms and conditions, especially the trader’s cancellation and policies in relation to fuel and returning the vehicle outside of working hours. It’s important to also inspect the car on collection and return. Check the insurance coverage, paying particularly attention to what exactly you are covered for and the excess that would be paid if something happens. Consumer should also be aware that it may take some days, after the return of the car, for the deposit/hold order to be released so always check with the car rental company how long it will be held for.
- Remember that when you purchase goods anywhere in the EU, your basic legal rights as a consumer are protected under EU legislation. If goods become faulty you have a minimum of two years to seek redress from the seller.
- If it too good to be true, it probably is. Be careful with what you buy and where you buy it, especially when it comes to expensive electronic items. There have been reports of aggressive sale tactics ending with consumers being hit for amounts as high as €7,000. Pay by card where possible, always double check the amount being authorised, and keep receipts, so that you have a better chance to secure redress if something goes wrong, including the possibility of requesting a chargeback.
- Everyone lets their guard down a little when they’re on holidays but be extra vigilant to ensure you avoid scams and other holiday spoilers. Be mindful of pickpockets and cautious of those offering to take your photograph or offering a free product or service. Also be wary of till workers who appear to be on their phone while taking payment but may actually be taking a photograph of your credit card details to be replicated later – never let your card out of your sight.
Roaming charges now even cheaper for travel in the EU – you can stay in touch for much less after new EU rules on roaming charges came into force on April 30th, 2016, with operators only able to charge a small additional amount to domestic prices. When mobile roaming in the EU, the new maximum charge that operators can add on top of domestic prices is €0.05 per minute to make a call, €0.0114 per minute to receive a call, €0.02 to send a text message, and €0.05 per MB for data usage (all prices exclude VAT).
- If you are involved in an emergency while abroad and require the assistance of the Department of Foreign Affairs or your local Irish embassy or consular office, you should contact the Department of Foreign Affairs Consular Assistance Unit in Dublin on +353 (0)1 408 2000.
- The European emergency phone number 112 is available anywhere in the EU free of charge. You can call this number and put through to a trained operator who will transfer the call to the most appropriate emergency service. 112 is also used in some countries outside of the EU such as Switzerland and South Africa, and is available worldwide on GSM mobile networks.
The guessing game – what does Brexit means for UK, Ireland, EU and consumers?
On June 23rd last UK voters went to the polling stations to make the important decision on membership of the European Union. Despite initial indications that the remain campaign might just scrape by it was the leave supporters who won out in the end with 17,410,742 (52 per cent) voting for leave the EU compared to the 16,141,241 voters who voted to stay.
This shock result has prompted a lot of discussion, speculation, and a lot of concern about what this will mean for the UK, for Ireland, and the rest of the European Union. The short term effect so far has been the resignation of UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Sterling falling to a 31-year low and a 57% rise in hate crime, Scotland and Northern Ireland’s pleas to remain in the EU and calls by the former for a referendum on independence and a border poll for the latter. There are also concerns for how the Ireland will be impacted by Brexit, what the Irish Government can do to cushion the blow, and if border controls will once again divide the Republic and Northern Ireland.
So what is the long-term impact? Taking into account the fact that UK is Ireland’s biggest trading partner, and that the majority of cross-border purchases of goods and services by Irish consumers are from UK traders, Brexit will certainly bring about some change. What kind of change? Well, to be honest, there’s nothing concrete on that yet. Any change that does occur will take some time. The UK has to first notify its decision to withdraw from the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin the divorce process which may take up to two years. A shorter period may be agreed upon but, likewise, the two-year limit could be extended. Of course there will be endless negotiations on trade and other issues that may impact our future relationship.
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In a joint statement by Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, Mark Rutte, holder of the Presidency of the Council of the EU, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, the UK government were called upon to “give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible, however painful the process may be”. This was supported by EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan who said: “I regret but respect the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. I echo the call of President Juncker for a swift and decision negotiation, pursuant to Article 50, in the interests of both sides. It’s essential that we set in train the essential steps to bring clarity and stability to the 27 member bloc as quickly as possible”.
Commentators have said that Brexit could affect EU legislation on roaming charges with Irish consumers living in the border counties or travelling temporarily in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK being hit by large bills. It has been suggested that due to the fall in Sterling it could be cheaper to buy goods such as clothes in the UK, however that’s no consolation this also raises the costs for retailers who rely on imports from other markets as this may lead to inflation. Also, if you fall ill there is no guarantee, yet, that the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme will apply in the UK. At present the scheme is available in EU and EFTA countries. The same is true for various networks of national enforcement bodies (NEBs) operating under EU law, such as the NEBs of Regulation 261/2004 in relation to flight cancellations, delays, and denied boarding. Procedures such as the European Order of Payment and the European Small Claims Procedure may also be discounted in the UK and there could be an impact on the development of online dispute resolution (ODR). Concerns similarly exist around issues such as consumer protection cooperation and data protection.
The EU Policy broadcaster viEUws interviewed Janis Emmanouilidis (Director of Studies at the Brussels-based think tank European Policy Centre, who discussed the UK referendum outcome and how he thinks it impact the EU and future negotiations (view video below). Hear what he has to say on the matter.
Another video (below), published by viEUws, shows Christofer Fjellner, EPP member of the International Trade Committee in the European Parliament, discussing the consequences of the UK referendum and the potential Brexit for the EU trade policy.
Reports of UK traders claiming EU consumer rights no longer applies because of Brexit
At present there are many uncertainties because of Brexit, but what is clear is that if Irish consumers buy goods or services from a UK-based trader, and vice-versa, consumer rights under EU legislation have not suddenly changed.
Whether you buy something in person or online from a UK trader you enjoy the same rights today as you did before the June 23rd referendum. ECC Ireland has received a report (see consumer query of the month) of a UK trader claiming that EU consumer legislation, such as the right to a 14 calendar day ‘cooling-off’ period, is no longer applicable because of Brexit.
ECC Ireland would like to advise consumers that this is not correct, your rights under EU consumer law still applies in the UK and other EU Member States, and do not let Brexit be used as an attempt to deter you from availing of those rights.
Consumer query of the month:
Question: I bought a dress from a UK-based trader. Unfortunately, when the dress arrived it didn’t fit properly so I contacted the trader to avail of the 14 day ‘cooling-off’ period. However, I was told that I could not be given a refund for the dress due to Britain leaving the European Union and that EU consumer law would no longer apply in Britain as a result. Is this true? What are my rights?
Answer: The information provided by the trader on this occasion is incorrect. The ‘cooling-off’ period is the means by which consumers within the EU/EEA can withdraw from a distance contract within 14 calendar days from the time of delivery. Regardless of changes to UK legislation that may be introduced in future, at present EU law, as transposed into UK legislation, continues to apply. The 14-day ‘cooling-off’ period referred to, for instance, was indeed introduced by virtue of the EU Consumer Rights Directive, which has subsequently been transposed into national legislation by all the Member States, including the UK. In particular, Regulation 29 of the UK Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (S.I. 2013 No. 3134) set out the right to cancel a distance contract within 14 days. This time limit can be extended, under Regulation 31, in the event of breach of information by the trader. These UK regulations came into force on 13th June 2014 and continue to apply.
Consumer success story of the month:
A consumer from Ireland placed an order on the website of a trader from the UK. Due to a glitch on trader’s website, no order number was generated after authorising the payment of €385. No email confirmation was received either and the goods ordered were not delivered. The consumer’s card, however, was charged the full amount. The consumer tried to resolve the issue by contacting the trader but the latter was unable to trace the transaction. In light of the situation, the consumer contacted ECC Ireland for assistance. The trader was subsequently contacted through the local Trading Standards office and the trader agreed to reimburse the €385 without further delay.
Press and Communications Officer
The European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net), which covers 30 countries (all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland), and offers a free and confidential information and advice service to the public on their rights as consumers, assisting customers with cross-border disputes. ECC Ireland is funded by the European Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the European Consumer Centre cannot be held responsible for matters arising from any errors or omissions contained in this publication. The information provided is intended as a guide only and not as a legal interpretation.
© 2016 – European Consumer Centre (Ireland) Ltd, MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7. Company limited by guarantee in Ireland, No. 367035 – Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708.
This ebulletin is part of the action 670695 – ECC-Net IE FPA which has received funding under a grant for an ECC action from the European Union’s Consumer Programme (2014-2020).
The content of this ebulletin represents the views of the author only and it is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture, and Food Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.