Staff at the UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) face redundancy in the event of no agreement being reached between the UK government and the EU before December 31, 2020.
The UK ECC currently employs 11 staff, mostly specialist legal advisers who are experts on cross-border consumer issues. Their redundancy could mean thousands of UK consumers are left unprotected if the centre closes because of the absence of an agreement.
Founded in 2007, the UK ECC is part of a network which operates across EU member states, Iceland and Norway. It offers consumers support and advice when they encounter difficulties with products purchased in those states.
The UK ECC experienced a surge in enquiries in May, when Ireland-based Ryanair cancelled many flights. By the middle of August, the centre had registered 7,067 consumer enquiries since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown on March 23.
The centre’s work relies on cross-border cooperation with fellow ECC offices, which liaise with overseas businesses on its behalf.
Based at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) offices in Basildon, the UK ECC is joint-funded by the UK Government and the EU. The Brexit negotiation phase has created uncertainty about the centre’s future, with funding from the EU likely to be removed at a time that demand for the service seems to be rising.
Andy Allen, Service Director at UK ECC, said: “The UK ECC could face closure, the 11 staff could lose their livelihoods and thousands of UK consumers would have no-one to help them in their disputes with traders in the EU if an EU Exit agreement is not made.
“It is possible that staff could lose their jobs because at the moment nobody can decide whether to keep the centre open past December 31.
“It is feasible that a decision could be made to start up again sometime in the future, but this is not a tap that can be turned back on again at a moment’s notice – these are specialist jobs. That future decision will be cold comfort to the staff who would already have been made redundant.
“UK ECC is the only service of its type available to UK consumers. It’s a service that’s free to consumers using it. For 13 years, we have helped many hundreds of thousands of consumers, and we will continue assisting them throughout 2020.
“I ask that the UK Government understands the critical role UK ECC performs in the UK consumer protection landscape and works out a solution which retains this valuable service during the negotiations.”
Consumers should contact the UK ECC with any queries by emailing the centre at email@example.com