Consumer service gets new international focus

Following an assurance by the UK Government of the future of the UK European Consumer Centre’s future for the whole of 2021, the service was relaunched with an international focus.

Renamed the UK International Consumer Centre, the centre (previously part of the European Consumer Centre Network ECC-Net of similar centres throughout EU member states plus Iceland, Norway and the UK) announced that it would continue to deliver free support and free advice for UK consumers who have made purchases from European companies outside the UK. It was also announced that the centre would handle cases about traders in an increasing number of non-European countries.

Its future had been in doubt for 2021 as it was joint funded by the UK Government and the EU, but the UK Government promised that it would fund the service – via the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – to keep the centre open for 2021.

Andy Allen, Service Director at UKICC, said: “This was fantastic news for UK consumers because they could rest assured that we are still here, we’re still helping and we’re still free. We lived to fight another day for UK consumers! Although we are no longer part of the ECC-Net, we do still work closely with those European Consumer Centres in order to get the best resolution for UK consumers when they are in dispute with traders abroad.”

Throughout the first part of 2021, COVID-19 affected the kind of cases dealt with by the UKICC: 54% (1,331) of all cases received just in the first quarter of 2021 were regarding items purchased online, an increase of 28% (1,040) on the same period in 2020.

It was in the autumn 2021 that the UKICC announced that it had made new global connections with a set of exciting new international relationships with consumer centres across the globe.

Almost 10% of the UKICC’s cases are now against businesses in non-EU countries. Of these, the most common locations are China, USA, and Switzerland.

The announcement of a much larger portfolio of countries the UKICC has working relationships with means that it now has links in place to share and handle cases from 10 non-EU countries: Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Mongolia, Malaysia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Mexico and Switzerland.

Lord Lindsay, President of host body the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said: “The UK International Consumer Centre plays a vital role in empowering consumers, helping them to gain a better awareness of their rights and providing them with support in resolving their problem purchases.

“Since it was formed 14 years ago, the centre has handled more than 150,000 cases of problem purchases for UK consumers.

“Even though the UK has left the EU, the UKICC is currently dealing with as many cases as ever from UK consumers in dispute with EU traders. This is despite the fact that historically many cases are linked to travel (and travel is currently limited due to COVID-19).

“With the challenges after Brexit, COVID-19 recovery and new markets being explored, it’s imperative that Her Majesty’s Government takes steps to ensure that UK consumers can be confident and feel protected in taking the opportunities created by trade with the EU and non-EU consumer markets as they open up.

“The UK International Consumer Centre’s growing partnerships – and reciprocal arrangements – with consumer organisations all over the world aim to support the resolution of disputes between UK consumers and traders based abroad. The availability of such support results in more confident and empowered UK consumers, making use of global markets.

“With possible divergence from EU consumer law and new global markets becoming accessible, this is clearly not the time for the loss of such an important service.”

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