A UK consumer service delivered by CTSI, which had been facing potential closure as a result of Brexit, is being relaunched following the assurance earlier this year of its future by the UK Government for the whole of 2021.
The new UK International Consumer Centre (UKICC) service delivers free support and advice for UK consumers who have made purchases from European companies outside the UK as well as an increasing number of non-European countries.
Formerly known as the UK ECC, the centre was previously part of the European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net) of similar centres throughout EU member states plus Iceland, Norway and the UK. Its future was in doubt as it was joint funded by the UK Government and the EU.
The UK Government has promised that it will fund the service – via the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – to keep the centre open for at least the whole of 2021.
Andy Allen, Service Director at UKICC, said: “It is fantastic news for UK consumers because they can rest assured that we are still here, we’re still helping and we’re still free. We live to fight another day for UK consumers!
“We are no longer part of the ECC-Net, but we are working still working closely with those European Consumer Centres in order to get the best resolution for UK consumers when they are in dispute with traders in other European countries.
“We are also working hard to expand the list of non-European countries we can collaborate with so that we can help more and more UK consumers.”
Earlier this year the UKICC had definite confirmation that the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will pay to keep the centre open, although there had been indications last autumn (2020) that this might be the case – when consumer Minister Paul Scully responded in Parliament to a question about UK consumer protection post-Brexit.
The host body of what was then the UK ECC, CTSI, worked hard to secure the commitment for the centre’s future for UK consumers.
Allen said: “We devoted a lot of time in 2020 to making sure that the right people in the UK Government were aware of the valuable service we deliver.
“I am delighted that we were able to work towards a solution which retains the centre and the high level of support it gives to UK consumers who are in dispute with traders from European companies outside the UK.”
The UKICC is the only service of its type available to UK consumers, delivering cross-border support to help UK consumers resolve their complaints.
CTSI Vice-President Baroness Christine Crawley said: “The centre has grown from strength to strength in the 13 years since its inception.
“In 2020 alone, almost 25% more UK consumers asked for help than the previous year so it’s clear that the centre is needed more than ever.
“Nothing else quite like it exists – it is a hub of specialist free advice which UK consumers can use to help them deal with disputes arising from purchases of goods and services from traders in the EU, Iceland or Norway.
“Its demise would have been a huge loss to UK consumers so it’s reassuring to know that they will still be around and still be helping.”
Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, the centre (which started in 2007) saw a record number of enquiries in a 48-hour period (in April 2020), with more than 1,000 consumers seeking its expertise and advice in relation to airline flight cancellations. This was the biggest influx of consumer enquiries since the 2010 Icelandic volcanic ash cloud chaos.
Figures show that in the whole of 2020, the centre helped 12,287 UK consumers, that’s an increase of almost 25% (24.8%) over 2019.
Overall last year (2020) the centre helped UK consumers recover an average of just over £464 each (£464.23), meaning that the UK ECC could potentially have recovered just over £5.7 million for UK consumers alone (or £6.75 million if we include all of the UK consumers and EU consumers we helped in 2020). That doesn’t take into account cancellation of invoices, replacements, repairs or vouchers, so the real consumer benefit could be higher. Not bad for a service which costs just £500,000 to run!
Allen said: “This unprecedented COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic led to a surge in consumers coming to us for help at a time when the very existence and future of our Centre appeared to be under threat.
“We were extremely pleased to get definite confirmation that the UK Government will fund the continuation of our centre for 2021. We didn’t want to have to let anybody down!
“Thousands of UK consumers could have been left unprotected if we’d closed. They know that they still have someone to turn to.
“Ours is a critical role in the UK consumer protection landscape and we are so pleased that the UK Government found a solution which retains this valuable service.”
So, what will the future of the new UKICC service look like?
Allen said: ““We’ve already got a relationship with more countries than those covered by the European Consumer Centre Network and we aim to expand on that. At the moment it is anticipated that our service delivery will be very similar to our previous way of working, but probably with the addition of a broader reach of countries.
“For 13 years, we have helped many hundreds of thousands of consumers, and we will continue assisting them throughout 2021. We are living in challenging times and the loss of our service would have weakened UK consumer protection.
“The current surge in consumer cases is being led by two main factors: the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and Brexit-related issues and neither of these influences is likely to go away any time soon.”
Consumers can make contact with the UK International Consumer Centre via the website – www.ukecc.net – or by phone on 01268 886690 Monday-Friday between 10am and 4pm.