How does Brexit affect consumer rights?

Even though many of rules relating to consumer rights are based on EU directives, most are also enshrined in UK law.

Despite the uncertainty around how the UK will exit the EU, EU law will continue to apply until the UK actually leaves the EU.

On the day the UK leaves the EU, the European Union Withdrawal Act - previously referred to as the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ will come into force. 

This act will end the supremacy of EU law in the UK, a crucial part of leaving the European Union.

It will also retain existing EU law. This means that the laws made over the past 40 years while the UK was part of the EU will be carried over, unless the UK government decides to change the law.

So, many of your rights will stay the same even after we’ve left the EU - until they are updated, removed or overhauled by Parliament in the future.

The Which? approach to Brexit

Which? wants to ensure that the government puts you first in its Brexit plans, protecting your consumer rights and giving you the greatest access to good quality and affordable products.

We can help the government achieve this, but we’ll need your support to make it happen. You can show your support for our Which? Consumer Charter for Brexit

What happens if the UK leaves the EU with the proposed deal?

If the withdrawal agreement is approved by the EU and UK, it's been agreed that consumer rights will remain unchanged until the terms of the future relationship between the UK and the EU are decided.

If a deal is passed, there will be a post-Brexit transition period - also called the implementation period - which aims to smooth the path until the permanent future relationship is confirmed. 

In the deal that was negotiated, but has not been passed by the UK Parliament, this implementation period would last from the day the UK leaves the EU until 31 December 2020.  

What happens if the UK leaves the EU with no deal?

If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, your consumer rights will become reduced in some circumstances and it could become more complex to seek redress.

We explain the key areas of consumer law that would be affected by no-deal Brexit and what you can expect.

Watch out for Brexit scammers

Fraudsters might seek to take advantage of uncertainty and confusion around Brexit to trick us into parting with our money.

Watch out for these Brexit scams which fraudsters may use before, during and after the UK's departure from the EU.

Passports and travel after a no-deal Brexit

In a no-deal scenario, passports would need to have at least six months left on them for travel to the EU - the government is already advising people to renew them as soon as possible.

In a no-deal scenario, if you're travelling to a Schengen country after the UK officially leaves the EU, you need to check whether your passport will be valid for your trip.

The 26 Schengen countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

If you renewed your old passport before it expired, extra months may have been added to your current passport’s expiry date. These may not count towards travel to Schengen countries.

How to check  

If you can answer yes to both of the following questions, you should be safe to travel:

1. Was your passport issued within nine and a half years of the date you intend to travel?  

2. Have you got six months left on your passport?

If you answered no to either of these questions, you may not be able to travel to a Schengen country until you've renewed your passport.

The government is advising people to renew their passports as soon as possible.

Will a no-deal Brexit affect my pet passport?

Pet passports would also be subject to additional veterinary checks - the government is also advising that if people want to take their pet abroad, they need to see their vet at least four months in advance of travel. The new rules do not apply when travelling to Ireland.

Travel by plane after a no-deal Brexit

The government announced in September 2019 flights will continue to run smoothly after the UK leaves the EU, whatever the circumstances.

The Department for Transport has said it will extend the UK's air traffic rights for EU airlines until October 2020, so air services between the UK and the EU can continue to operate as usual, regardless of whether a new Brexit deal is agreed.

If flight disruption resulting from Brexit is regarded as an extraordinary circumstance, you won't be entitled to compensation or a refund on admin fees or accommodation losses, but you should try to get a refund on your ticket.

The government previously advised you check with your travel insurer whether you would be covered for flight delays as a result of Brexit disruption.

Travel by car after a no-deal Brexit

In a no-deal situation, you'll need to get an Internatonal Driving Permits (IDP) from a UK post office ahead of travel in the EU and European Economic Area (EEA). You don't need an IDP if you're planning to travel by car in Ireland.

This applies to taking your own car as well as hiring a car.

There are three permits you could need depending on where you want to travel, and some IDPs last longer than others.

You will need a:

  • 1949 permit to drive in Spain, Iceland, Malta and Cyprus
  • 1968 permit to drive in all other EU countries, plus Norway and Switzerland
  • 1926 permit to drive in Liechtenstein

Car permits for UK holidaymakers travelling in the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) can only be bought in specific post offices from February 2019.

Planning to drive abroad this year? Our Which? Car guide explains everything you need to know about the International Driving Permits, car insurance cover and advice on what you'll need in case of a breakdown in an EU or EEA country.

Package travel and holidays after a no-deal Brexit

In a no-deal Brexit scenario, EU traders selling holiday packages or linked travel arrangements in or to the UK will be required to comply with the insolvency protection requirements under the Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements 2018 (PTR 2018) in the same way as all other traders. This means if the company you booked your package with goes bust, you’ll be protected.

But if a package travel organiser is not based in the UK, or does not direct its business to the UK, you should ask for clear information, including on the level of insolvency protection, before you commit to the purchase. You won't be protected by PTR 2018 but you may be covered by insolvency protections in the member state of the European Union.

Bear in mind that taking enforcement action against any seller based outside the UK after Brexit is likely to be more difficult than is currently the case.

Will the Ehic be valid after Brexit in no-deal scenario?

The European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) applies to EEA countries and Switzerland. The Ehic gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland.

It covers treatment that is medically necessary until your planned return home, but is not a replacement for travel insurance. An Ehic won’t cover private medical healthcare costs, such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property. An Ehic isn’t valid on cruises.

In a no-deal Brexit scenario, the Ehic card will no longer apply to UK travellers holidaying in these countries. This will likely increase the cost of your travel insurance.

The government said it will fund healthcare for a six-month period following exit day for UK residents visiting the EU, if the trip begins before the scheduled 31 October 2019 Brexit day.

The Government has advised UK citizens to take out comprehensive travel insurance when going overseas, both to EU and non-EU destinations.

If you’re planning to visit another EU country, on or after the UK leaves the EU make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that meets your particular healthcare needs.

Check what you're covered for with your travel insurer before you go on holiday, especially if you're going to be doing any sports other other activities which could be dangerous.

Wondering whether you'll be able to use your mobile abroad like at home if the UK leaves the EU with no deal? Our Which? guide on EU roaming and international calls explains the latest.

Card surcharges after a no-deal Brexit

In January 2018, EU rules banned retailers from charging customers a fee to use Visa and Mastercard credit or debit cards.

Prior to the rules being passed, consumers were hit by up to 3% surcharges for booking with credit cards on popular European airlines, such as Vueling and Eurowings.

The UK passed its own legislation, meaning the surcharge ban will continue to apply for UK purchases after Brexit.

But if you're buying goods from the EU, or from EU-based companies, you may no longer be protected in a no-deal Brexit scenario.

Cross-border payments will no longer be covered by the surcharging ban (which prevents businesses from being able to charge consumers for using a specific payment method).

European companies – including airlines and travel providers that previously levied card surcharges on a frequent basis – could re-introduce them for UK customers.

The government has advised that the cost of card payments between the UK and EU will likely increase in a no-deal scenario.

Product safety after a no-deal Brexit

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would immediately fall out of all the EU agencies and regulatory bodies that are responsible for conducting safety assessments, meaning that UK bodies would have to take on these functions to ensure consumer safety.

But UK consumers will still be able to access the Rapid Exchange of Information System (RAPEX) website to see what EU product recalls have been issued.

The RAPEX system is the EU rapid alert system for unsafe consumer products and consumer protection - the alerts contain information about dangerous products, the risks of these products and the steps being taken at national level to prevent or restrict marketing of the product.

The difficulty consumers will face in a no-deal situation is if they have a faulty good purchased from an EU retailer. The process of getting a refund or replacement could become a lot more complex.

Shopping outside the UK after a no-deal Brexit

Your right to return goods bought from an EU retailer won’t change from your existing rights in a no-deal scenario.

Unless the EU retailer is actively marketing their goods to the UK, you’ll be buying the goods under the law of that country - this applies now and would apply in the same way if the UK left the EU with no deal.

But after a no-deal Brexit, you might find it more difficult to return goods purchased from the EU because it will be more complicated to exercise your rights.

If you get into a dispute with a retailer based in the EU, Trading Standards won’t be able to help you and you’ll have to go to that country to file your claim against them in the courts.

How can I tell if a company is actively marketing to the UK?

Companies that are set up to market to the UK might do the following:

  • Ask you which country you’re browsing from, or have already pre-selected the UK when you visit its .com site
  • Redirect you to the version of its site, if it has one
  • Display prices in pounds sterling
  • Show that it is knowledgeable about UK/EU law in its terms and conditions and indicate that these rights apply when you shop

It isn't always easy to spot a retailer based outside the EU when you're shopping online, especially if it uses Google or social media to target its adverts at UK-based shoppers.

Be careful if you see lots of targeted advertising and make sure you check the website before you buy - the retailer might be marketing to the UK, but it won’t necessarily abide by the law when things go wrong.

When you shop online, read the terms and conditions to see what governing law applies, as you won't be protected in the same way as if you bought from a UK retailer. If you're buying from a marketplace, be aware that sellers can be from all over the EU.

A lot of our laws are the same as other EU countries, but the right to get a refund after 30 days for a faulty good is UK specific.

This is because the UK decided to add in that right to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which also includes protections included in EU legislation, so it’s enshrined in UK law.

If you’ve bought a faulty good from a UK retailer, or an EU retailer actively marketing to UK consumers, you’ll still be able to exercise this right after a no-deal Brexit.

GDPR data protection law after a no-deal Brexit

If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, you won't see an immediate change in the UK’s own data-protection standards. This is because the Data Protection Act 2018 would remain in place and the EU Withdrawal Act would incorporate the GDPR into UK law to sit alongside it.

In a no-deal scenario, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will no longer be part of the arrangement set up by the GDPR that allows EU data regulators to coordinate on complaints from EU member state citizens.

This means the ICO will not be able to co-operate with equivalent data protection authorities in the EU about complaints from UK citizens. In addition, if a company is only based in an EU member state, the ICO may not be able to consider a complaint about that company.

For example, if a hotel chain that is present across the EU is misusing the personal data of its guests, the ICO would not be able to co-ordinate with other EU data regulators in handling a complaint about this practice.

The ICO will also not be a member of the European Data Protection Board, although the ICO has said that it wants to retain a strong relationship with the EDPB after exit.

The aim of UK independent authority ICO is to uphold information rights for UK citizens. This includes dealing with data protection complaints from UK citizens and working to improve behaviours of companies and organisations that process your personal data.

If the withdrawal agreement is approved, then during the transition period the UK will not be a member of the EDPB. It's not clear how the one stop shop will work during the transition period, however the appropriate cooperation between regulators is included in the political declaration.

Alternative-dispute resolution (ADR) after a no-deal Brexit

The Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform run by the European Commission will no longer be accessible to UK buyers and sellers in a no-deal scenario. But the obligations around alternative dispute resolution for businesses will not change as a result of a no deal.

UK-based alternative-dispute-resolution organisations will no longer be required to act in cross-border disputes though, so you may no longer be able to use these.

UK consumers will still be able to contact the UK’s European Consumer Centre (ECCN) for help and advice for up to a year after the UK leaves the EU even if no deal is reached, as the government has committed to funding the ECCN for one more year.

Small claims court after a no-deal Brexit

In the case of a no-deal, you won't be able to pursue a claim in the UK small claims court with a retailer based in the EU.

You will have to issue your claim in the country of the retailer or company you're in a dispute with.

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