Consumers buying online from a business in the EU have strong consumer rights under a range of EU consumer protection legislation. Consumers encountering difficulties have recourse to the European Consumer Centre (ECC) network and the Consumer Protection Co-operation (CPC) network, which provides a basis for national enforcement authorities to co-operate and share information in relation to cross border breaches of consumer law. Once the UK leaves the EU, consumers will no longer automatically have these rights in relation to purchases made from UK traders and the UK will no longer be able to participate in the ECC and CPC networks. Consumers can, however, seek to resolve difficulties directly with UK traders and can also initiate civil legal action through the Courts.
The Government’s Brexit Contingency Action Plan, published on the 9th July 2019, contains information for consumers in relation to online retail after Brexit. The Action Plan highlights the fact that consumers may not be protected by the Consumer Rights Directive and other EU consumer protection legislation if they purchase products online from UK retailers. In addition, it advises consumers that such transactions may be affected post Brexit due to additional import charges, duty and VAT, along with the costs in relation to returns for retailers.
For more detailed information, the Brexit Contingency Action Plan directs consumers to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) website where they can gather further information in relation to Brexit, including the changes to consumer rights for those purchasing from the UK including a Q&A regarding the impact Brexit could have on rights when shopping online. In relation to online shopping, the CCPC highlights the importance of consumers knowing where a trader is located and advises consumers to pay particular attention to the terms and conditions on websites based outside the EU, including provisions in relation to return of purchases and order cancellation. The CCPC’s website also has information on any additional taxes and charges consumers may need to pay when ordering online from a country outside the EU. For example, Value Added Tax (VAT) is payable if the value of the items plus shipping is €22 or more and import charges such as customs or excise duties are payable on items valued at €150 or more that are purchased from outside the EU.
The CCPC also launched a public information campaign in March, in the run up to the original Article 50 deadline of March 31st. As part of the Government's Brexit communications strategy, the CCPC is currently planning consumer market research with a view to informing a further awareness campaign this Autumn on the potential changes to consumer rights as a result of Brexit. The CCPC continues to closely monitor the developing Brexit situation and will update the information it provides to consumers, as required.