Brexit: your questions answered

The UK’s decision to leave the EU has raised questions about everything from finances to flight rights.

In many cases, it’s not currently possible to predict the impact of the Brexit vote - but some effects are already being felt, in the form of volatile financial markets.

In this video, Which? Money editor Harry Rose summarises what the leave vote could mean for consumers. And below, other Which? experts answer common questions in more detail.

 

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How will Brexit affect me?

To get straight to a subject, click on one of the links below.   

 

Household spending

Will the price of my weekly shop go up? 

Which? senior retail researcher Matt Clear says: 'Food prices have actually gone down since the referendum result. The price of food was 1.1% lower this August compared to the same time the previous year, according to the BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index. However, most experts expect that prices will go up in the coming months, although by how much depends on many factors. 

'Prices of imported food are likely to go up due to the pound's decline in value since the referendum result.  Some 40% of our food is imported. 

'The Bank of England recently suggested that supermarkets may cope with this increase in costs by making pack sizes smaller and using less expensive ingredients.'

Will I still be able to order goods online from Europe?  

'Yes, although in the short term they may be more expensive due to the pound's drop in value.

'Currently, if you buy goods online from outside the EU, you have to pay import VAT on items over £18 and customs duty on items over £120. If the UK leaves the single market, then these charges could also be applied to items you buy online from the EU - but it will be up to the government to decide that.'

 

Savings and investments

What will stock market falls do to my pension? 

Paul Davies, from the Which? Money team, says: 'In the aftermath of the UK vote to leave the EU, stock markets plunged dramatically. They’ve since recovered but remain volatile. We've explained the implications for your retirement savings in this news story on Brexit and pensions.  

Should I move my investments somewhere safer?

Mike Trudeau, from the Which? Money team, says: ‘The short answer is probably not. If you had a plan when you first invested, then you should stick with that plan. You already know that investments go up and down, markets fluctuate in the wake of unpredictable world events, and investing is a project for the long term.

‘Trying to time the markets is an almost impossible task, something even the professionals struggle to do consistently.

‘However there is a small 'but': if, given the recent volatility in the markets, you realise that you simply cannot stomach the amount of risk that comes with investing in shares, then yes, maybe you should consider moving money into somewhere safer. Your portfolio make-up should reflect the amount of risk you’re willing to take, and if that changes then so should your portfolio. But be aware that at this tumultuous time it is possible you’d be selling shares at a low, and that they might - or might not - recover later.’

Are my savings still fully protected?   

Rubal Channa, of the Which? Money Helpline, says: ‘For now, your savings continue to be protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, just as before the referendum vote. This is the compensation fund of last resort backed by the UK government.
‘Under the scheme, the first £75,000 of your savings - or £150,000 if held jointly - will be refunded to you within seven working days in the event of a UK bank or building society failure.

‘The process of leaving the EU is likely to take at least two years and it’s possible that these limits may be reviewed in the event of a formal exit. Savers will be given notice if this is going to happen.'

Will I be poorer because sterling is worth less?

'For now, going abroad or making purchases in foreign currency will be more expensive.

'For investors, the question is whether poor exchange rates for sterling will continue, and this may not be a long-term situation. There has already been some recovery.

'If you have a diversified portfolio where there’s an overseas element, the extent to which your investments might be affected depends on what proportion of your portfolio is invested in assets that are vulnerable to fluctuations in the exchange rate, which in turn is likely to depend on your attitude to risk.'

 

Consumer rights

How will my consumer rights be affected?

Adam French, of the Which? Consumer Rights team, says: ‘There will be a negotiation period required for the UK to leave the EU. It hasn't started yet and could take up to two years. During this time, all of your consumer rights will remain the same.

‘Even then, although many of our consumer rights are based on EU laws, such as those covering buying goods and package holidays, most are enshrined in UK law. This means that unless the government decides to change the law, many of your rights will remain the same.

'The lawyers here at Which? are currently analysing consumer laws to determine what could possibly be affected by leaving the EU. We will work with the government to ensure that the consumer voice is heard and your rights are protected throughout the UK's withdrawal from the EU.'

Find out more: Brexit and your consumer rights - more info from our consumer rights team

 

Cars and petrol

Should I buy a car now or later? 

Nic Shaw, of the Which? Cars team, says: 'There's no immediate reason to delay buying a car, as long as you can afford it and are confident you can keep up any repayments (if you buy it with a loan or on finance) and meet ongoing running costs. 

'The price of fuel has already started to climb, however, making it all the more important to choose a model that offers good fuel economy (mpg). Realistic, accurate mpg figures taken from our rigorous lab and road tests are shown in every Which? car review'

Will the price of imported cars go up? 

'It's possible the prices of cars built outside the UK will go up due to fluctuations in the sterling exchange rate. However, in the short- and medium-term, manufacturers and dealers are likely to try to keep prices at or close to their current levels in order to maintain demand and sales volumes. 

'We may even see attractive new deals being offered in order to tempt buyers who may be nervous about the state of the economy. As always, the best course of action is to choose a Best Buy car, shop around and haggle to get a good price.'

Will the price of petrol and diesel go up? 

'Prices are going up and have been since the start of the year. However, they have been very low - currently average petrol and diesel prices are 110p/litre and 111p/litre respectively, but in June 2012 they were well over 130p/litre. Prices are likely to go up further, and possibly quicker, because oil is traded in US dollars and sterling has lost value compared to the dollar. Again, the best thing to do is choose a fuel-efficient car, and try to drive economically.'

 

Homes and mortgages 

I'm a first-time buyer. Will Brexit make it easier or harder for me to buy a home? 

David Blake, from Which? Mortgage Advisers, says: ‘Brexit could actually make things slightly easier for first-time buyers. Mortgage rates were already low, and could well get even lower. 

'Which? analysis at the end of September found that the number of first-time buyer mortgages on the market increased by 13% in the first three months following the Brexit result. At the end of September there were 5,366 mortgage deals available, compared with 4,736 in June.

'The average mortgage rate on offer to first-time buyers also fell from 2.99% at the start of June to 2.85% at the end of September, according to Which? analysis of Moneyfacts data.

‘Some experts have predicted that house prices will drop, too. However, homeowners who had been planning to put their property on the market might hold off until things have settled, making the lack of housing even more problematic than it already is. This could stop any price drops that would otherwise have happened - it’s all about supply and demand.

'Either way, saving a big enough deposit is likely to remain the biggest challenge for first-time buyers. As a rule of thumb you’ll need at least 5%, but it usually pays to save more.'

I was planning to sell my home. Should I hold off?

'It’s hard to give a definitive answer. If the lack of certainty around the economy makes buyers nervous, you may find it hard to sell your property.

'That said, if other people decide to hold off selling their own properties for now, this will mean you have less competition, and demand for your home may be higher. It may also be worth acting now if you’re worried about house prices falling over the next few months.

'In the first couple of months following the Brexit vote, house prices have remained relatively stable. However, this is based on national averages - you can find out what's happening in your area with our interactive house prices map.'

What is likely to happen to mortgage interest rates?

'In August, the Bank of England lowered the base rate to 0.25%. Most people with tracker mortgages immediately benefited from a lower rate as a result (though some tracker rates have collars on them), while many lenders lowered their standard variable mortgage rates.

'It has been hinted that the base rate could drop even further in the coming months. Both the base rate and mortgage interest rates are already at historic lows, but waiting for a further drop in the base rate could help you secure an even cheaper mortgage. However, there’s no guarantee that mortgages will get cheaper - nervousness from the banks could prevent them dropping their rates again and as rates are historically low already, they don’t have very far to fall.

'In the medium term, rising inflation caused by more expensive imports could mean the Bank of England decides to increase the base rate.'

Is now a good time to take out a fixed-rate mortgage?

'The uncertainty around interest rates means fixing your rate could be a good idea if you want to be sure how much you'll be paying each month. But as interest rates could potentially drop further later this year, it might be worth waiting to see what happens before locking yourself into a deal.

'Think ahead before committing to a two-year deal, as this could leave you needing to remortgage near the actual point of an EU exit. This period is likely to be another uncertain time for the markets, which could increase the cost of borrowing. If you know you’re unlikely to move house again for a few years, fixing your interest rate for a longer period could protect you from potential rate rises around the time of Brexit.

'At of the end of September, HSBC offered some of the lowest rates we could find on fixed-rate mortgages, with a headline rate of 0.99% (rising to 3.69%) on a two-year fixed deal and 1.89% (rising to 3.69%) on a five-year deal. Both are subject to a maximum loan-to-value (the amount you're borrowing in relation to the cost of the property). For the two-year deal the maximum LTV is 65% and you will need to pay a product fee of £1,499. For the five-year deal the maximum LTV is 60% and comes with a product fee of £749. 

'In such a changeable economy, some may find it more important to have a flexible mortgage than a fixed rate of interest. For a long time, tracker mortgages were dismissed as they didn’t offer good value. However, many tracking rate products have no set lock-in period, enabling you to review your mortgage and potentially change products or remortgage at any time without incurring a charge for doing so. There are even some fixed rates on the market that offer this facility, which are certainly worth considering in what is likely to be an uncertain time.'

Find out more: Brexit and property - Which? Mortgage Advisers answer more of your questions 

Travel and mobile roaming

Will the cost of flights and holidays go up or down? 

Amber Dalton, from the Which? Travel team, says: 'It’s likely that a weaker pound will lead to an increase in the cost of flights in the short term. A drop in sterling also means that your holiday spending money won't go so far.

'If you've yet to book, it may be worth looking at UK holiday companies which have frozen prices for the coming season. Riviera Travel has fixed the prices of its river cruises on departures up to October 2017, while Which? Recommended Provider Inntravel will guarantee the prices on its Walking & More programme for winter 2016/2017. Also, consider whether to book and pay for any extras upfront to protect yourself from a further weakening of the pound.

'If you’ve already booked a holiday, under Package Travel Regulations, a tour operator can increase the cost of a confirmed holiday in the event of a change in the exchange rate, but only under certain conditions. The holiday companies must absorb the first 2% of any increase, and if there’s a ‘significant’ change in price (considered to be more than 10%), you must be given the opportunity to cancel. 

'It’s worth noting that many travel agents, including Which? Recommended Providers Inntravel, Trailfinders and Ramblers Worldwide, guarantee not to apply surcharges to booked holidays.'

Find out more: Five ways to make your travel money go further - make the most of your holiday money

Will I have problems getting into any other EU countries?

Jill Starley-Grainger, from the Which? Travel team, says: ‘Until the UK leaves the EU, you should be able to travel just as easily through EU borders as you can now. Given that it's projected to take at least two years for us to exit the EU, this shouldn't affect any holidays you currently have booked.

‘It's possible this might remain the same even after we leave the EU, but at this stage nobody knows for sure. We’ll keep an eye on the situation, and if anything changes, we’ll update you in Which? Travel magazine and online.’

Will my flight rights change? 

Adam French, from Which? Consumer Rights, says: ‘The Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed there will be no immediate changes to your right to claim

‘But it's possible that this may change in the future. The right to claim compensation for flight delays or cancellations does not derive from UK law; instead it comes directly from an EU regulation. We won't know whether these rights will change until negotiations between the UK and the EU on this area have been concluded.’

Which queue will I join at airport passport control and will I have to queue for longer?

Kate Shipp, from the Which? Travel team, says: ‘Airport queues are Which? members’ biggest frustration when flying to and from the UK. If we lose access to the fast-track EU passport queues, it’s hard to see how that won’t lead to longer waiting times at some European airports. But we currently don't know whether this will happen.

‘We will keep track of passengers’ airport experiences after the UK leaves the EU. In the meantime, you should join the same passport queues as before.’

Is the Ehic still valid? 

Trevor Baker, from the Which? Travel team, says: ‘The European Health Insurance Card currently lets you access state-funded healthcare in much of Europe, not just the EU, for free or at a low cost.

‘It will still be valid this summer and during the period of Brexit negotiations.  After that it will depend on what agreement the UK reaches with the EU. Countries within the European Free Trade Association but not in the EU (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) are currently covered by Ehic

‘If you don't already have a card it's a good idea to apply for one. In normal circumstances they're valid for five years, but it's not yet clear whether that will be still be the case if the UK does not join the European Free Trade Association, or to sign a similar deal with the EU.’

Does this mean I'll still have to pay mobile roaming charges? 

Jon Barrow, from the Which? Technology team, says: ‘No one truly knows. The cost of using your phone in Europe has come down dramatically over the last few years because of EU rules on roaming charges. This has helped curb the problem of being hit by surprisingly high charges while you’re abroad.

‘Politicians in the EU have been keen to completely eliminate roaming fees – ie the additional cost for texting, calling and surfing the internet – in Europe. This was set to happen on 15 June 2017. However it’s not yet clear what effect Britain’s exit from the EU will have on this move.

‘If we retain access to the single market then we might keep the favourable roaming arrangements, but if we completely leave there’s a chance that costs could shoot back up. At the moment, though, it's unclear what will happen. Some mobile providers already let you use your UK allowance of calls, texts and data overseas, and they may continue to offer such deals after Brexit.’

Find out more: Brexit and mobile roaming - more info from our Tech Daily blog

 

Employment and education

Will UK working hours go up? 

Louise Wilkinson, team manager at Which? Legal, says: 'Working hours are governed by the terms of the employment contract and any changes to legislation due to leaving the EU are unlikely to affect existing contract terms. 

'The maximum 48 hour working week permitted under the Working Time Regulations, which implement an EU directive, may be a focus for change as a consequence of leaving the EU but it is not possible to predict whether they will be and, if so, what such changes are likely to be. As the law stands at present, workers can and frequently do contract out of the 48 hour maximum.'

What rights do I have if I'm made redundant?

‘Most of the laws that relate to redundancy do not come from Europe, but from home-grown legislation and case law. Therefore leaving the EU is unlikely to affect redundancy law.’

Will I no longer be able to work or study in other EU countries?

'Whether individuals will be able to continue to work and study in other EU countries is going to depend on what terms are negotiated as part of the UK leaving the EU.'

 

Energy and light bulbs

Does this mean we can have more powerful vacuum cleaners again?

Matthew Knight, from the Which? Home team, says: ‘It’s worth remembering that more powerful vacuum cleaners don't necessarily mean better cleaning. In fact, the EU Ecodesign regulations that were put in place on vacuum cleaners in 2014 have been very successful in cutting the power used by vacuum cleaners, while still maintaining a high pick-up level of dust and debris.

‘Even if the the restrictions on vacuum cleaners are reversed, the UK market is much smaller than the European market, so we’re unlikely to see major manufacturers like Miele, Bosch and Dyson making more powerful vacs specifically for the UK.’

Will I be able to buy old-fashioned light bulbs again?

'We’ll need to see whether the UK is still subject to European Ecodesign laws. It's worth knowing that old-fashioned light bulbs fail much sooner, and use almost 10 times as much energy as replacement LED bulbs.'

Do you still have questions about Brexit? 

Which? will continue to monitor the key issues surrounding the impact of Brexit on consumers. We'll be covering more questions in the next issues of Which? and Which? Money magazines. If you have a question about the impact of Brexit, you can submit it to our experts

For the latest news, videos and tweets, see our Brexit hub

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Last updated:

09 September 2016

Which? Limited (registered in England and Wales number 00677665) is an Introducer Appointed Representative of Which? Financial Services Limited (registered in England and Wales number 07239342). Which? Financial Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN 527029). Which? Mortgage Advisers and Which? Money Compare are trading names of Which? Financial Services Limited. Registered office: 2 Marylebone Road, London NW1 4DF.