According to the UK ECC’s recently published annual report, more than 15,000 UK consumers turned to the service for help in 2018. The free service, which is currently part-funded by the European Commission and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered by the CTSI, offers UK consumers advice in dealing with cross-border disputes relating to buying goods and services within EU countries.
The UK ECC is set to receive funding for at least a year after the UK’s exit from the EU according to guidance published by the Government in October 2018. The service has an uncertain future after that, given Brexit ambiguity. Until the UK formally leaves the EU, EU law will continue to apply to and within the UK.
Andy Allen, service director at the UK ECC, said: “In 2018 we dealt with 15,089 consumer cases; that’s about the same as the year before. That’s significant, in view of the uncertainty faced by the UK as it faces life outside the EU.
“As the UK heads towards Brexit, it’s clear that UK consumers are still in need of the help and advice of the UK ECC. Our team handled an impressive 9,473 phone calls from concerned consumers in 2018 and we are recognised as one of the most prolific centres on the European Consumer Centre Network.”
Every year UK consumers find themselves in disputes with EU companies over problems with things such as timeshares, discount holiday clubs, transport (including air travel and car rental), and recreation and culture.
Consumer feedback received by the UK ECC shows a 93% customer satisfaction rate for January to the end of March 2019, one of the highest ratings recorded by the service.
Allen added: “Our recent figures show the service provided to UK consumers by this team is of paramount importance. Without it, tens of thousands would be left without a means to redress or guidance and with nobody to turn to. This go-to service, which started in 2007, helps thousands of consumers and the feedback speaks for itself.
“Sometimes traders respond to the UK ECC positively because there has been a lack of knowledge within the company about consumer rights which we are able to rectify, and sometimes it’s because the language and geographical barriers which exist for consumers are reduced when we are involved.
“The UK ECC service is fair and companies may respond because we are a professional and trusted brand delivered by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute. Companies may also respond to us positively because the relationship between the trader and the consumer has broken down and it just needs somebody else to act as a go-between. Sometimes the trader just needs that extra little push to do the right thing.”
The continued success of the UK European Consumer Centre comes despite the establishment of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) bodies in the UK and the development of the European Commission’s Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform. ADR bodies provide a process that enable disputes between a consumer and a business to be settled by an independent mechanism outside the court system.
The ODR platform, with its own translation tool, is a facility launched by the European Commission in 2016. It links consumers throughout the EU to whichever ADR body has been chosen by the trader, so that the consumer can make their complaint to the ADR body online.