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UK European Consumer Centre

UK ECC 10 Years Anniversary

the number 10 with lots of confetti falling aroundLooking to the future

Back in 2007, when the UK European Consumer Centre started, we could not have foreseen the range of impacts that we would have on consumers and consumer policies in first 10 years and what the outlook is 10 years on.

Now, as the UK ECC enters its 11th year of helping consumers, not only do we look back over our first 10 years, but we also consider: “What does the future hold for consumers in dispute with traders based in a European country outside the UK once the UK leaves the EU?”

Andy Allen, UK ECC service director, said: “Obviously we are working against a backdrop of Brexit: without being in the EU or the Single Market, there will be no legislative reason that the UK should continue to have a European Consumer Centre. However, the EU Commission and BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) recognise that UK and EU consumers will continue to buy from each other’s markets.

“We hope that we will continue to operate as a consumer centre after the UK leaves the EU and, with this in mind, we are now building relationships with non-EU countries, including Japan, South Korea and New Zealand with a view to shaping our post-Brexit future.

“In terms of consumer protection, EU legislation has made great strides in the past 10 years in improving consumer protection. The UK ECC is an essential part of a consumer's armoury in their bid to get what is rightfully theirs. But without the necessarily legislation in place, our job would be a lot harder and consumers would be in a much more precarious position.”

The UK ECC’s team of consumer advisors have responded to cross-border issues from more than 84,000 UK consumers since 2007; in fact, 2017 was our biggest year in terms of case volumes.

We’ve been presented with a number of bizarre case studies in the past year alone: from a hair transplant, a masturbation aid, ghosting-hunting device, human fingers in dog food, and flowers. But we’ve also had some more down-to-earth cases, including timeshares and package holidays, air passenger transport and car hire, to electronic equipment and furniture.

The top three categories for consumer cases which needed further assistance (in 2016) through any of our counterpart offices were: transport; recreation and culture; restaurants, hotels and accommodation.

Andy said: “Over the past 10 years, we have played a vital role in empowering consumers, helping them to gain a better awareness of their rights and take full advantage of the internal market.

“We are often able to negotiate refunds and compensation for consumers. Even though we are not always successful we frequently get a more positive response from the trader than the consumer would otherwise have done alone.

“Our aim is to help as many UK consumers to achieve a positive result as possible: a refund, replacement, repair, or cancellation of their contract. As we only give advice and assistance, we cannot force a trader to give the consumer what they want if ultimately they refuse to do so. We can however then go on to advise the consumer of any other steps they could take to enforce their consumer rights.”

The UK ECC is effectively a practical manifestation of the single market for consumers. Our strength is in numbers: we are part of the European Consumer Centre Network (30 centres covering Europe, plus Iceland and Norway). Our service is FREE and we usually get involved when consumers have exhausted their own efforts to resolve a dispute directly with the trader. We can offer advice and information on an aspect of consumer law, provide tailored advice to help resolve the consumer’s complaint and sometimes – for those consumers who need further help – our ECC-Net counterparts can contact the EU trader on behalf of the UK consumer.

As well as helping consumers we have made significant contributions to improving a number of laws governing cross-border disputes. This has been done in a number of ways, including through consultation papers, workshops and projects/campaigns nationally and internationally.

Our centre has also taken a leading role in the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) world: we have overseen the UK launch of a new tool for online purchases, the Online Dispute Resolution platform, which allows consumers to initiate and resolve disputes across the EU.

Andy said: “Consumers will continue to fall foul of scamsters from the continent, either when travelling abroad or when online. Currently there are mechanisms that allow scamsters from the EU to be investigated, consumers to seek advice about cross-border purchases and how to avoid scams, as well as for the consumer to pursue EU companies through the UK courts. There is considerable concern that these mechanisms will no longer function once the UK leaves the EU.

“The UK ECC has done its part over the past 10 years to improve the UK consumer landscape and boost consumers’ confidence to make cross-border purchases. We sincerely hope that this will continue after Brexit.”

UK consumers can contact the UK European Consumer Centre on 01268 886690 between 9am and 5pm or email us at ecc@tsi.org.uk.

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