The UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) has seen a surge in requests for help in 2020, with enquiries from members of the public rocketing by 34%.
The increase has been in part due to the COVID-19 crisis, with a monthly rise in requests since the easing of lockdown measures as consumers return to engaging with more European businesses.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Centre also experienced a dramatic rise in enquiries, with a record 1,000 consumers seeking its expertise and advice in relation to airline flight cancellations – the biggest influx of enquiries since the 2010 Icelandic volcanic ash cloud chaos.
The Centre also experienced a surge in demand in May, when Ireland-based Ryanair cancelled many flights. By the middle of August, it had registered 7,067 consumer enquiries since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown on March 23.
The UK ECC provides assistance and advice on cross-border consumer issues, helping UK consumers who encounter problems when buying goods and services from the Continent. But its future remains in doubt, with uncertainty over the outcome of the EU Exit negotiations raising questions about its funding.
According to Andy Allen, UK ECC Service Director, “This unprecedented COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in consumers coming to us for help at a time when the very existence and future of our Centre is under threat.
“The service provided by the UK ECC is joint-funded by the UK Government and the European Union; however, the Brexit negotiation phase has created uncertainty about the Centre’s future with funding from the EU likely to be removed at a time when demand for the service is rising.
“We could face closure and thousands of UK consumers could be left unprotected if an agreement between the UK Government and the EU is not made before December 31.
“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.”
The UK ECC offers free support and assistance to consumers who have bought goods or services in EU countries, as well as Norway and Iceland. Consumers can contact UK ECC here.