Where consumer rights have no means to be upheld they are rendered worthless. The UK ECC forms part of a wider framework – ECC-Net – that allows for EU-wide advice and complaint handling on behalf of consumers. It is a vital network for consumers that provides cross-border access to justice, and it is at severe risk from Brexit.
Other concerns for the post-Brexit world include: how to ensure a judgement obtained in one country will be recognised and enforced in another; what the rules are to determine which country’s courts will hear a cross-border case and which country’s laws will apply. There is also a threat that EU consumers may start to ‘price in’ uncertainty, favouring EU suppliers with a price premium over UK counterparts for peace of mind.
It is vital that when the UK leaves the EU, the government makes good on the promise of ensuring ‘no less protection’ for consumers. It is also essential to our cross -border trade that consumer confidence is maintained when buying across EU borders, which means high levels of UK consumer law being measured against divergence from EU law and any changes clearly communicated to consumers.
There is a significant opportunity here for the UK ECC to leverage its experience and become a key intermediary between relevant consumer bodies in the UK and their counterparts in the EU. Additionally, there is the opportunity to build relationships and support mechanisms with countries outside the EU, such as Switzerland, China and the USA.
Consumer rights have been continually strengthened by the EU. It is important that the current levels of consumer protection and thereby confidence in cross-border markets be maintained. However, consumer rights are of very little help if methods to enforce them are not available. It is essential that consumers have access to cross-border consumer advice and assistance and we urge the government to support the UK ECC.
In the short term, EU consumer law is likely to be transposed into the UK law book, providing a respite during the transition period. But it is difficult to foresee the impact of withdrawal without visibility on our transitional or future relationship with the EU. It is vital that consumers in the EU and the UK can continue to buy from each other’s retailers and manufacturers, with minimal uncertainty concerning routes to redress. The UK needs to retain clear processes for resolving any disputes that arise and it must maintain ongoing legal cooperation on civil matters with the EU through the judicial cooperation framework or via a very similar partnership.
IN FOCUS: Providing consistency
Consumers should be assured that, if they have a particular dispute or problem, they will find an established set of organisations which can deal with their grievance after Brexit.
The UK ECC is geared up to deal with cross-border disputes despite differences in national laws. To provide a level of consistency for consumers post-Brexit, it is important to preserve the UK ECC. When we see divergence in consumer rules occurring, the UK ECC will be in a strong position to keep up to date with these changes and work with the EU.
Exiting the EU is making for considerable uncertainty over the future shape of formal relationships and mechanisms between UK consumer protection bodies and their counterpart EU Institutions.
Some of these relationships will need to be negotiated afresh, representing a significant risk to cross-border consumer confidence and access to justice.