The only thing we know for sure about Brexit is that nobody knows how it is all going to end. Britain and the rest of Europe are in uncharted territory and there is no sign of any certainty in the near future.
The Irish Government has been working to help businesses get Brexit-ready for many months and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) says it is now time for individuals to get to grips with the potential changes on the way.
“When you buy online from an EU-based business, there are protections which ensure that you have the opportunity to change your mind and also you have very strong consumer rights if something goes wrong, for example if you don’t get your items delivered,” Isolde Goggin, Chair of the CCPC said.
“When the UK leaves the EU, these protections will no longer be guaranteed when buying from UK-based retailers.”
CCPC research found 72% of consumers in Ireland have bought online from a UK-based retailer in the past two years, many of them making multiple purchases.
It found 40% returned items they purchased from a UK retailer and 71% of these who had made returns did so because the product did not fit the bill or they changed their minds. But the right to return in these circumstances is a right under EU consumer law and may not apply to goods bought from the UK after Brexit.
Consumers should also be aware that post-Brexit, they may have to pay certain taxes and duties, including customs duty, excise duty, and Vat, if they are buying from UK traders.
Currently when you buy something from outside the EU, you pay Vat when the value is over €22 and you pay import charges on items over €150. When the UK leaves the EU, these costs will apply to items from the UK.
“Whether you are a frequent or occasional online shopper, our message is simple — before you buy, check where the business is located and read the terms and conditions on the website — be sure to check in particular the returns policy and see if you can return goods if you change your mind,” said Ms Goggin.
“Also check to see if there are costs for returning items. Make sure you are happy with these before you purchase anything.”
Before ordering from outside the EU, find out what Vat and import charges you may have to pay.
If you run into problems, current redress mechanisms will not be available, as EU consumer law will not apply to and in the UK after its departure from the EU. For example, if you are in a dispute with a UK-based trader, you may not be able to avail of the European Consumer Centre network or the European Small Claims Procedure.
Consumers in Ireland can still take individual action through the Irish courts if they have purchased online from UK traders, but resolution may be less straightforward than it currently is.
Another area of potential change is the booking of package holidays with UK operators. EU legislation gives you specific rights and entitlements when you book a package holiday from an operator in an EU member state.
A tour operator might be located in an EU member state, including Ireland, or outside the EU,including the UK. If you buy a package holiday from an operator that is based outside Ireland, ask them or your travel agent what arrangements are in place if the operator goes out of business.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the European Commission has confirmed that if you bought a package holiday from a UK-based organiser, your current consumer rights will still apply if the travel agency marketed the package holiday in Ireland.
If the travel agency has not marketed the package holiday in Ireland, your rights as a consumer will depend on UK law.
One concern I have heard raised regularly is roaming charges while in the UK. In the event of no deal, mobile operators would no longer be legally required to offer roaming at no additional charge to customers travelling to the UK.
However, for the moment the three main mobile providers here have indicated that there will be no changes to the current roaming arrangements for their customers.
These are just some of the potential pitfalls to be aware of in the coming months. At CCPC.ie, the commission also has a section dedicated to Brexit and provides links to other government departments who can help in specific area.
Silver surfers in Cork have the chance to learn about financial fraud scams, particularly those targeting older people, at a FraudSMART free clinic later this month. FraudSMART is a Banking and Payments Federation Ireland initiative that aims to raiseawareness of the latest financial fraud activity and trends, and how consumers and businesses can act to protect themselves.
As part of Fraud Awareness Week 2019, this year’s initiative includes a series of clinics, including one at the River Lee Hotel on Western Road, Cork on September 26, kicking off at 11am.
Supported by Active Retirement Ireland, the event aims to give the public, especially older citizens, with a forum in which to learn about trends in financial fraud scams, including the warning signs, the safeguards to put in place and who to contact in the event of a fraud attempt.
The event is free to attend but reserving a spot is recommended at RSVP@fraudsmart.ie.
If you have any particular concerns, please contact me at email@example.com and I will address those in a future column.