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Consumer Slot

 

Happy Birthday UKECC

 

An important consumer body that most people have never heard of celebrated its tenth birthday recently. The UK European Consumer Centre started operation in November 2007. The UKECC is the consumer advice and dispute-resolution centre for cross-border disputes, and in its first ten years has dealt with disputes about time-shares, package holidays, air passenger transport and far rarer but more flamboyant cases about a ghost hunting device found to be faulty (who’d have thought?) and fingers found in dog food.

Part of the 30-strong European Consumer Centre (ECC) Network, with members across Europe, the Centre is co-funded by the European Commission and the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). It’s not big, with a workforce of just twelve, but in its life has dealt with 84,000 disputes. These might be straightforward requests for help where cross-border advice is not needed; advice cases, where cross-border advice is given and consumers pursue their own cases; and assistance cases, where the UKECC shares a case with an ECC Network partner for them to intervene on behalf of the affected consumer.

The UKECC has also played its part in some of the changes to consumer law that have happened in the last ten years, such as the modernisation of Sale of Goods laws to account for on-line commerce. Their experience and that of their colleagues across the Channel had a direct input into drafting the amended laws.

Their overall aim is to achieve a positive result for as many UK consumers as possible, by way of repair, replacement, refund or the cancellation of contracts. They can’t force a business to give the consumer what they want, but they can advise about the next steps the consumer can take.

There’s some concern about what will happen to the Centre and to cross-border disputes after brexit. At present there are mechanisms by which people can pursue EU companies through the UK courts, and UK consumers can use the European Small Claims Procedure, which may be lost as an option, meaning that engaging a lawyer abroad might be the only way of getting redress, an expensive and lengthy business.

Presently the UKECC can be contacted on 01268886690 or www.ukecc.net

 

And a Brand New Government Body

 

Another BEIS initiative, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) was created in January 2018 to enhance protection for consumers and the environment and (from their website) ‘drive increased productivity, growth and business confidence’. After brexit, product safety regulations will need to be drafted ‘in-house’ and this will be one of their roles.

But the role seems to go well beyond that, into better local regulation (in other words, how Trading Standards and business can work better together for the benefit of all), international regulation (see the paragraphs above – they will be charged with sorting out the future of UKECC) and responsibility the the National Measurement Office. They’ve already produced a guide for business, working with BSI, on product safety recalls, and carried out their first enforcement action, bringing a case to court of a business failing to ensure that imported timber came from a legal (and therefore sustainable) source. We’ll watch their progress with interest.

 

Cliff Shining