Brexit and EU consumer rights
With the United Kingdom due to leave the European Union, consumers may be wondering how Brexit will affect their consumer rights. Will the deal get support allowing an orderly exit on 22nd May? If the House of Commons does not approve the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will have until 12th April to indicate a way forward. Whatever form Brexit will take, it is clear that it will have an impact on consumer rights.
Please note: The following information will be updated when there is further clarity about Brexit, and how this will impact your consumer rights. For the time being, the UK remains a full member of the EU and, thus, EU law continues to apply in and to the UK.
Brexit and shopping
When consumers buy something online from a trader based within the EU they have strong protections under the EU rules currently in force. Your shopping online rights include the right of withdrawal, or otherwise known as the 14-day cooling off period, for most online purchases (exceptions apply), the right to redress in case of faulty goods, and the right to refund for delayed or non-delivery.
What happens to my consumer rights if I buy a product online from a UK trader before Brexit?
If you purchase an item before Brexit, you should in principle be covered by the same rights enshrined in EU consumer protection law. These have been implemented in domestic legislation by all the EU Member States, including the UK, and can thus be relied on even if your rights are exercised after Brexit. This might be, for example, if you buy a product before Brexit, only to discover after Brexit that it already had a defect when purchased. However, in some cases consumers may encounter difficulties in availing of their rights and seeking redress (more on this below).
What happens to my consumer rights if I buy a product online from a UK trader after Brexit?
If the UK leaves the EU, you will no longer automatically enjoy the same rights that you have under EU law. Whilst UK domestic legislation is currently aligned with EU consumer protection law, this could change in future. If you purchase a product online from a UK trader after Brexit, pay special attention to the terms and conditions (e.g. returns and cancellation policy) as these may be particularly relevant in case of difficulty with the law applicable to the contract.
What steps should I take to protect myself when shopping online after Brexit?
- If you are shopping online from a trader based in any of the remaining EU Member States, then your EU consumer rights will continue to apply. Make sure you check the relevant contact details to ascertain the trader’s address.
- If the trader is based outside the EU (e.g. the UK if Brexit goes ahead) a different set of rules may apply and additional difficulties may arise when seeking redress if something goes wrong. Make sure you check the terms and conditions to find out what to do if there is a problem
- For added protection, it is strongly advised to always pay securely using a credit or debit in order to avail of chargeback.
What happens if there is a problem with my online purchase?
EU consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in another EU Member State can get advice and seek assistance from the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net). In addition to this, consumers can also avail of the European Small Claims Procedure and the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). These procedures are available only where a consumer and a trader are both based in an EU Member State.
After Brexit, consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in the UK will no longer be able to seek redress through the ODR platform. In the event of a hard Brexit, the UK ECC will cease to be a member of the ECC-Net, which means we won’t be able to assist with complaints involving consumers or traders from the UK. Also, the European Small Claims Procedure will cease to operate in the UK in such a case.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) bodies that operate in the UK currently comply with the requirements of the EU ADR Directive. These ADR bodies are likely to continue after Brexit. It is, however, still not certain that consumers in other EU countries will be able to submit complaints about UK traders using these bodies.
One of the concerns of a no deal Brexit regards the loss of reciprocity in judicial cooperation in respect of jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters. The UK Government has indicated that judgements given in an EU Member State will continue to be enforceable in the UK if legal proceedings commenced before the withdrawal date, but it is still unclear what the arrangements will be after, or if there will be reciprocity.
If your product is not delivered or it is not in conformity (e.g. faulty), then you should complain to the trader (in writing if possible) and, if no satisfactory response is received, then contact your bank or credit card provider (if payment was made using a credit/debit card) and request chargeback.
Will there be extra costs when buying from a UK trader after Brexit?
Currently, when you buy from a trader based outside the EU, there are extra charges that may apply and therefore your purchase may cost more than you thought. According to Revenue, if your goods have a customs value (including cost, transport, insurance and handling charges) of €22 or less you do not have to pay Customs Duty or VAT. However, if it is more than €22 then you will have to pay VAT. If the intrinsic value (the value of the goods alone excluding transport, insurance and handling charges) is more than €150 then you will have to pay Customs Duty. Therefore, before ordering from a UK trader or any other trader based outside the EU it is advisable to check what VAT or import charges you may have to pay, on top of the original cost of the goods.
Please note that if you buy goods from a trader based outside the EU and later return the item, you may be able to claim a refund of the Customs Duty and VAT. Go to Revenue website for more on this.
Buying products from a UK retailer with physical store in Ireland
If you buy a product from a physical store in Ireland, your contract is with that seller and, therefore, any request for redress (for example, repair, replacement, or refund) should be made directly to that seller. In such cases, your consumer rights will not change because of Brexit, even if the owner of the chain or brand is based in the UK.
If you are resident in Ireland and have a dispute with a trader based in Ireland (for example, you bought the item from a store on the high street) then you can contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission for advice.
Rights when travelling after Brexit
The European Union grants protections to air passengers in the case of flight cancellation, delayed flights and/or denied boarding (Regulation (EC) 261/2004). This protection applies to all passengers travelling on:
- Flights leaving the EU, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland, regardless of where the carrier is based and the destination airport.
- Flights arriving into the EU, Iceland, Norway, or Switzerland, regardless of the departure airport, but only if the carrier is based within the EU.
If you are travelling with an EU based airline, you will as a general rule continue to maintain your EU air passenger rights regardless of whether you are travelling to or from the UK.
On the other hand, if there is a hard Brexit, EU passenger rights will not automatically apply to passengers departing from a UK airport to an airport situated in the EU/EEA, unless the operating air carrier is a community carrier. It is still unclear if the UK will continue to apply Regulation 261/2004 if it becomes a third country in the event of Brexit and, if so, in which terms. For example, Switzerland chose to ratify this legislation even though it is not a member of the EU/EEA.
On 19 February 2019, the presidency of the EU Council reached a provisional agreement with the European Parliament to mitigate the severe disruption to air connectivity for passengers between the EU and the UK in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. The proposed regulation would enable UK-licenced carriers to provide air transport services between the UK and the remaining 27 member states, subject to conditions ensuring fair competition, allowing the European Commission to lay down implementing acts when the application by the UK of certain standards, including passenger rights, fall behind those provided by EU law. Negotiations are currently ongoing an the proposed regulation still needs to be formally adopted by both Parliament and the Council.
Travel by Sea:
After Brexit, EU citizens will still be covered by European passenger rights at sea if you travel with a company that is based within the EU. This applies regardless of whether you are travelling to the UK from an EU country or vice versa. You will not, however, be covered if you are travelling from the UK to an EU country with a company that is not based within the EU. Similarly, EU rules do not apply to travel by boat from the UK to countries outside the EU.
There are EU rules in place to provide protection to travellers that book package travel holidays, if the operator is based within the EU. As the UK will no longer be part of the EU, many of these rights and protections under EU legislation may not apply, however, similar rights may continue under UK law. Therefore, if you booked a package holiday with a UK based tour operator that is due to commence after Brexit, it is very important to check with the operator or your travel agent what arrangements they have in place if they go out of business, if the holiday is cancelled, or if the holiday is altered.
Access to health services when travelling:
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows European citizens to benefit from public health care during a temporary stay in another country, covering all countries within the European Economic Area (EEA) – all EU Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – as well as Switzerland. In the event of a hard Brexit, the EHIC will no longer be valid in the UK. However, the UK government has indicated that it is ‘seeking arrangements with countries on healthcare arrangements’.
Other consumer issues:
Since the 1970s, the EU has adopted approximately hundred Directives and Regulations with a consumer protection angle. The potential consequences of Brexit are thus far reaching, yet uncertainty remains high as to full impact on relevant areas, e.g. roaming, geo-blocking, online content portability, data protection, product safety, and enforcement cooperation.