Until the UK leaves the EU, there appears to be little prospect of substantive changes to the body of EU consumer protection and the UK’s fair trading regime. Of course, that’s the short term – during the Article 50 Brexit process and any implementation period.
As the major consumer protection EU Directives have been fully implemented in various pieces of UK legislation, the main aspects of EU consumer law should survive intact at the point the UK leaves the EU.
It’s questionable whether, immediately post-Brexit, there will be political will to make large changes, such as alterations to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 which was designed to modernise, simplify and consolidate UK consumer protection legislation.
Looking beyond Brexit, it’s encouraging to see that the government is committed to maintaining high standards of consumer protection.
Nevertheless, challenges remain in ensuring the important protections offered by the EU can be retained or replaced after Brexit.
The lack of clarity for post-Brexit consumer markets is a major threat that we cannot yet quantify. The ongoing uncertainty brings costs for everyone, including consumers, businesses and regulators.
Also, we are very concerned that key consumer regulations and networks with the EU in areas such as enforcement or data sharing cannot be unilaterally recreated by the UK.
It’s been made clear we will not be part of the EU’s digital single market and that will eventually lead to divergence in approaches to consumer digital contracts. We will need to be vigilant and ensure UK consumers and businesses are not disadvantaged.
While the threats from Brexit have been well debated, it may in time offer opportunities to improve areas of consumer law without any impact on cross-border trading.
For example, post-Brexit, there might be potential to improve and clarify laws that implement the unfair commercial practices directive and the injunctions directive. In addition, there could be the chance to simplify consumer law in areas where EU directives have led to uncertainty. There are many examples which are confusing in areas relating to cancellation rights, the return of goods, and exemptions for custom-made products.
In short, it may be possible to improve some areas of our complicated consumer protection regime once the UK leaves the EU.
IN FOCUS: Dealing with EU scams
The ongoing reduction in local authority trading standards services is having a worrying impact on the ability of officers to tackle scams and rogue trading.
Regardless of the adequacy and breadth of the consumer law framework post-Brexit, enforcement is a crucial aspect needed to retain consumer and business confidence in the system, and one that should not be underestimated.
The challenge of dealing with rogue trading is significantly exacerbated when the threat comes from outside our borders. We need to ensure that our partners will continue to enforce rogue trading practices and scams that originate from within the EU.
Opportunities now exist to clarify and simplify certain consumer protections, such as those that deal with distance contracts and cancellation rights.