The United Kingdom plans to exit the EU on 22 October 2019. Up until that date, all EU law, including common provisions on consumer protection, will remain in force and applied also in the UK. If the UK and EU cannot reach an deal on the terms of Brexit, EU agreements will cease to be effective in the UK. This information package has been prepared by the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA) in collaboration with the European Consumer Centre Finland to explain the rights of Finnish consumers, particularly in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Even at this late stage, there is much uncertainty about Brexit and the situation is constantly shifting. The information herein will be updated and amended as new details emerge.
The so-called no-deal Brexit would mean that the United Kingdom exits the EU single market without a withdrawal agreement and the accompanying transition periods. A no-deal Brexit would have significant impact on the rights of consumers, particularly in the areas of travel and online shopping. Factsheets by the European Commission on travelling and consumer rights (25 March 2019).
NOTE! Consumer authorities cannot assist consumers in other Brexit-related issues, such as residence permits, travel documents, air operation certificates and customs duties. Information on topics related to Brexit have been published on the websites of various ministries (such as tem.fi, om.fi, lvm.fi) and government agencies (such as traficom.fi, tulli.fi) and the Prime Minister’s Office (vnk.fi), among other channels.
Brexit and consumer rights:
Air travel is free of restrictions within the EU in that all EU airlines may choose their routes freely. However, air travel from the EU to third countries require a separate agreement with said country or separate official permits. As a result, Brexit will also fundamentally affect the future of air travel to the UK and via the UK to third countries
If the UK were to exit the EU without a withdrawal agreement, air travel connections between the EU and UK would also be affected. The European Commission has proposed:a Regulation that would ensure basic air travel connections in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but even if this were to be accepted, cutbacks to the current routes are possible and connection flights from Finland via the UK may no longer be available. However, the situation may still change and consumers are advised to follow announcements by both authorities and airlines and ensure that airlines have their up-to-date contact details
Air passenger rights and consumer protection
EU Regulation 261/2004 ensures the rights of air passenger rights in the event of cancellation, delay or denied boarding in flights departing from the EU or arriving in the EU, operated by an EU airline. What will happen to these rights after a no-deal Brexit?
Flights from Finland to the UK
Even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the rights of EU air passengers and Regulation 261/2004 will apply to all airlines, British included, that operate flights to the UK from an EU member state or Iceland, Norway or Switzerland.
For example, EU air passenger rights are applied to a British Airways flight from Helsinki to London as the flight departs from an EU member state. The same applies for flights from an EU member state to a third country on a single ticket, such as Helsinki-London-New York, even if the second leg to New York is operated by a UK airline.
However, as the situation also depends on issues such as air operating permits, consumers are advised to follow information by airlines and ensure that their contact details are up-to-date.
Flights from the UK to Finland and to other EU states and third countries
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, EU air passenger rights and Regulation 261/2004 will not necessarily be applied on flights that depart from the UK to an EU member state if the operating airline is not based in an EU Member State or Norway, Iceland or Switzerland.
For example, EU air passenger rights will still apply on Finnair flights from London to Helsinki despite Brexit. On the contrary, the same rights will not necessarily be applied on British Airways flights from London to Helsinki or London to New York in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
It remains to be seen whether the UK’s new regulations will grant air passenger rights equivalent to those of the EU. Were this to be the case, consumers on flights operated by UK airlines would continue to enjoy rights equal to those in the EU. However, the details of this and the future level of protection are as of yet uncertain.
The consumer has already purchased a flight from Helsinki to New York via London that departs immediately after Brexit. What is the course of action?
The consumer should ensure that the airline or tour operator has their up-to-date contact details, follow the airline’s channels of communication and prepare for potential changes. It may be that the travel proceeds as normal, but changes are always possible. The airline or tour operator has a duty to inform its customers of any changes without delay.
If a consumer has already reserved the travel from Helsinki to New York via London on a single booking, where, for example, the first leg from Helsinki to London is operated by Finnair and the second from London to New York by British Airways, EU air passenger rights will apply for the full duration of the travel even after Brexit. If the consumer has purchased flights from Helsinki to London and London to New York separately and the second leg is operated by a UK or non-EU airline, EU air passenger rights will not apply on the flight.
Are consumers permitted to cancel flights reserved from Finland to the UK or via the UK to elsewhere in the world?
In view of the current information and circumstances, free cancellations of flights are not possible unless otherwise stated in the contract or booking terms and conditions. The contract terms agreed by the consumer at the time of purchase still apply. Naturally, an exception to this is if the airline is unable to operate the agreed flight.
Air passenger rights in business travel
Rights of air passengers with a disability or reduced mobility
Other travel-related issues
EU maritime passenger rights will apply even in the event of a no-deal Brexit on ships that depart from the EU. The rights also apply on ships registered in the EU that depart from the UK to an EU member state.
If the UK exits the EU without a withdrawal agreement, issues may arise in train connections between the UK and mainland Europe as cross-border traffic by rail operators requires permits from both the EU and the UK. The rights of EU rail passengers (including compensation for cancellations and delays to consumers) apply in rail travel within the EU, provided that the rail operator has a permit in accordance with EU regulations. After a no-deal Brexit, the provisions of the EU Regulation on rail passengers’ rights will no longer be applied in rail travel between the UK and EU during the length of the journey on UK soil. However, it is possible that the UK will grant the same rights to rail passengers unilaterally in its legislation. The situation is still subject to changes.
Long-distance buses and coaches
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, EU rights to bus and coach passengers will apply on regular services to and from the UK with a distance of more than 250 km, provided that the passenger gets on or off within the EU. In services with a distance of less than 250 km, the rights are applied with restrictions. Moreover, some EU member state do not apply all provisions of the Regulation to regular services where a significant length of the route is operated outside the EU.
Travel packages and protection against insolvency
Organizers that are established in the EU and offer travel packages (such as flights+hotel purchased together) or linked travel arrangements must lodge a security that covers payments made by or behalf of travellers as well as their return trip home in the event of insolvency.
The provider of the travel package is responsible for rescheduling flights and notifying passengers of the changes in the event that Brexit affects the package’s flight connections. Travellers must ensure that they have provided up-to-date contact details to the travel agency or organizer.
After a no-deal Brexit, UK organisers that do not target sales or marketing to Finland need not lodge this security. If a travel agency or travel package provider based in the UK targets its marketing to Finland, such as by means of a Finnish language website, it will still need to lodge a security against insolvency with the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority or in another EU or EEA country
Travellers that purchase travel packages from UK organizers after Brexit are advised to read the contract terms and conditions carefully, as EU legislation on travel packages will no longer be valid as such. Particular attention should be paid to the terms of cancellation and protection against insolvency. In its marketing, the organizer must state the country in which the security against insolvency has been deposited and the contact details of the party maintaining the insolvency protection system
Information on the effects of a no-deal Brexit on travel and vehicle insurance for travellers and motorists in the UK is available here (in Finnish): Finance Finland (FFI) website.
As a rule, EU residents do not need to pay additional roaming charges when travelling outside their home country within the EU. After a no-deal Brexit, travellers in the UK may need to pay higher roaming charges, such as when surfing the web with a phone while on holiday. Still, it is possible that roaming in the UK will be priced the same as in the EU. Check your carrier’s policy on roaming charges outside the EU before your trip.
Car rental in the UK
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, car rental in the UK (England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) will be subject to UK law. Even if the consumer were to book the rental through the website of a Finnish car rental agency, the actual rental agreement is not usually signed until you pick up the car from the local rental agency and subject to the legislation of that country.
Online shopping and other purchases after Brexit
Even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the level of consumer protection will likely remain relatively consistent between the UK and EU. Still, consumers should always read the contract terms of the trader, such as the terms of order of the online shop
When an online shop targets its marketing and sales to Finland
If an online shop registered in the UK has a Finnish website and it provides customer service in Finnish, it is subject to Finnish law and within the jurisdiction of the Finnish Consumer Ombudsman. In these cases, the rights of consumers will remain detached even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, regardless of the legislation to be applied or enacted in the UK. For example, the 14-day right of withdrawal for online purchases will still be applied.
When an online shop does not target its marketing and sales to Finland
When buying from the English language website of a UK-based online shop, the following instructions apply:
When buying before Brexit
EU law will apply to purchases made before Brexit and may be invoked retroactively, such as when a product purchased before Brexit is found defective. In such cases, contact the trader to receive a replacement or refund. If necessary, you can also contact the European Consumer Centre Finland for advice.
When buying after Brexit
EU law will not apply as such to products or services purchased after a no-deal Brexit. However, it appears that, for example, the 14-day right of withdrawal for online purchases will continue to apply as it is also laid down in UK law. Still, the situation may change and it is advisable that you read the online shop’s terms of order carefully whenever making a purchase.
Liability for defects after Brexit
In UK law, defects legal guarantee have been set at 6 years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and 5 years in Scotland. In this regard, consumer rights will not be effectively weakened, but the law may be changed at a later date after Brexit. In the event of a problem, contact the trader.
Customs duties and taxes
After Brexit, products purchased from the UK will be imports from outside the EU and subject to customs duties, with certain criteria
If a UK company sells products to Finnish consumers after a no-deal Brexit, it may be required to include Finnish value added tax in the sale price.
UK companies that continue to target online marketing to EU member states such as Finland (in Finnish) after a no-deal Brexit will no longer be subject to the EU Regulation on geo-blocking. This means that UK companies are free to practice geo-blocking and discriminate consumers based on their place of residence or nationality. It is possible that UK-based online shops will continue to follow the EU Regulation on geo-blocking, but they will not as such be under obligation to do so.
Shopping in the UK
When buying before Brexit
EU law will apply to purchases made while visiting the UK before Brexit and may be invoked retroactively, such as when a product purchased before Brexit is found defective. Despite this, always check whether right of withdrawal applies before buying. Many shops allow right of withdrawal of 14 days or longer, but this is not a statutory consumer right. In the event of a problem, such as noticing a defect after the purchase, contact the trader.
When buying after Brexit
EU law will not apply as such to products purchased while visiting the UK after a no-deal Brexit. Check with the trader to learn the product’s legal guarantee for defects, commercial warranty and rules for right of withdrawal or product exchange. Despite the fact that many shops offer a return period withdrawal period of 14 days or longer, they are not obligated to do so. In the event of a problem, contact the trader directly. If necessary, you can also contact the European Consumer Centre Finland for advice.
Payment cards / payment methods
The SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) facilitates cross-border electronic payments, including credit transfers, direct debiting and card payments. SEPA encompasses both countries using euros and European countries not part of the eurozone or the EU. In non-euro countries, SEPA functions in parallel with their national payment systems. Although it is at this point uncertain how Brexit will affect the UK’s involvement in SEPA, it is unlikely that the UK would exit the common European payment system as this would significantly hamper its trade with EU member states.
It is possible that UK regulations on payment services, such as surcharges for payment methods, may change in the future in connection with or after Brexit. For details, see Consumer Ombudsman guideline on payments and invoicing (surcharges) (in Finnish).
The UK is not a part of the eurozone and uses its own currency, pound sterling. However, Brexit may affect the transfer of cash to and from the UK.
In the case of Finnish consumers with assets in UK banks, deposit protection in compliance with EU standards will remain in force despite Brexit, at least until the UK enacts new legislation.
Will Finnish payment cards be valid in UK-based online shops?
Online shops in the UK are free to choose their accepted payment methods or limit them to those not commonly used in Finland (such as PayPal).
As the EU Regulation on geo-blocking will no longer apply to the UK after a no-deal Exit, UK online shops will be free to practice geo-blocking and refuse refuse to sell to Finnish consumers who use a payment card issued by a Finnish bank. In other words, while Finnish payment cards may continue to be accepted after a no-deal Brexit, UK companies will be under no obligation to do so.
EU Regulation 2015/751 on interchange fees for transactions by consumer payment cards will no longer be applied to card payments between the UK and EU member states. This may have an impact on consumer prices and on whether traders will accept card payments from Finland.
Who can help consumers in Brexit-related issues?
In the event of a problem, consumers should always primarily contact the company (airline, tour operator, online shop, service provider, etc.) whom the matter concerns in order to try to resolve the issue. It should be noted that there is a great deal of uncertainty around Brexit, and details may still change at a very late stage before the time limit for the UK’s exit on 31 October 2019. Consumers are advised to ensure that companies have their up-to-date contact details, in order to allow communication on changes as the result of Brexit. This is particularly important if you are planning on travelling to or from the UK by plane.
NOTE! Consumer authorities cannot assist consumers in other Brexit-related issues, such as residence permits, travel documents, air operation certificates and customs duties. Information on topics related to Brexit have been published on the websites of various ministries (such as tem.fi, om.fi, lvm.fi) and government agencies (such as traficom.fi, tulli.fi) and the Prime Minister’s Office (vnk.fi), among other channels
The European Consumer Centre in the UK
The European Consumer Centre advises consumers on consumer protection within the EU and mediates disputes in issues related to cross-border trade, in other words when consumers purchase products or services outside their home country from another EU member state, Norway or Iceland. The ECC network currently has an office also in the UK.
Currently available information suggests that if the United Kingdom leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement (the so-called “no deal” scenario), the European Consumer Centre in the UK (ECC UK) may have to leave the European Consumer Centres Network immediately with no further access to the common case handling system. A no-deal Brexit would therefore mean that the ECC Finland could no longer provide same level of assistance to Finnish consumers experiencing problems with a UK trader as it currently does. The ECC Finland will contact customers with ongoing complaints against a UK trader by the end of March. If an agreement on the UK's withdrawal is reached or Brexit postponed, the ECC UK could continue to operate for a period of time. ECC UK had previously stated that it had received UK Government funding until March 2020.
Consumer Advisory Service in matters related to Finnish companies
The Consumer Advisory Service is a national service that provides information on how consumer protection legislation is applied in Finland, personal advice, and mediation assistance in disputes between consumers and Finnish businesses. If the matter cannot be resolved with the help of the Consumer Advisory Service, consumers may refer it to the Consumer Disputes Board.
The principal duty of the Consumer Ombudsman is to supervise compliance with the Consumer Protection Act and other legislation enacted for the protection of consumers in Finland. Supervision primarily focuses on legal compliance in marketing activities, contractual terms and conditions and debt collection. The objective of supervision is to ensure that the violating company ends or alters its illegal marketing activities or unreasonable terms of contract. The Consumer Ombudsman also supervises compliance with the rights of passengers in cooperation with Traficom. The Consumer Ombudsman has the right to also address the activities of foreign companies that target their sales or marketing to Finland (for example by advertising or maintaining an online shop in Finnish). As a rule, the Consumer Ombudsman does not handle individual disputes in which consumers seek compensation for defects in goods or services. Such cases are handled by the Consumer Advisory Service, the European Consumer Centre Finland and the Consumer Disputes Board
Dispute resolution providers and court rulings
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) providers in the UK will likely continue to operate even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but it is currently unclear whether they can act in cross-border disputes or provide assistance strictly to British consumers
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK can't access the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform provided by the European Commission, where consumers can resolve disputes related to online shopping in cases where an agreement with the trader cannot be reached and lodge complaints with the authorised dispute resolution bodies of different EU member states.
The European small claims and order for payment procedures will no longer apply in disputes between Finnish and other EU consumers and UK businesses in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
After a no-deal Brexit, lawsuits may still be brought in Finnish courts in cases where a Finnish consumer has signed a contract for a consumer product with a company in the UK. However, it is unlikely that the UK would recognise rulings by Finnish or other EU member state courts after a no-deal Brexit.
Consumer Protection Cooperation Network
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, consumer authorities in the UK would no longer be obligated to cooperate with authorities in EU member states in cross-border disputes.