Brexit and consumer rights

Sarah Moore looks at what might happen to EU legislation if Britain votes to leave.

Much of the talk around the upcoming referendum on membership of the European Union focuses on the big picture, such as the impact of Brexit on our global trade agreements and our ability to deal with security threats. But EU legislation also has a significant impact on many aspects of our day-to-day lives, from financial services to holidays. So what might happen to these if we vote to leave the EU?

The key to understanding this is to be aware that EU laws are usually implemented into British law in one of two ways as a Regulation or a Directive. A Regulation applies to all EU member states automatically and individual governments don't have to write it into domestic law. A Directive doesn't automatically apply; instead, the EU member states must draw up national legislation to implement it.

This distinction is important, because it will affect which consumer rights we would automatically continue enjoying after Brexit. For example, rules entitling consumers to fair treatment (such as clear pricing rules and "cooling off" periods) have been made UK law through the Consumer Rights Act of 2015. So these would continue to apply, unless post-Brexit each law was specifically repealed.

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However, the ability to claim compensation for delayed or cancelled flights within the EU was brought in as a Regulation. So it's not part of UK law and might not stay in force if we leave the EU. More recent curbs on mobile-phone companies charging extortionate fees for "roaming" when using your phone abroad are also a Regulation.

It's not clear how the government would handle this inconsistency in the event of Brexit. It may decide to turn some EU Regulations into UK law, especially those that have proved effective in protecting consumer rights, but this is not certain. It may also be that any future agreement we have with the EU would follow a Norway-type model, where we would still be bound by EU laws in many areas.

Regardless, it's evident that Brexit could affect consumer rights more than most people realise, so it would be helpful if both sides of the campaign set out how they plan to deal with this in the event of a Leave vote in June.

Sarah is MoneyWeek's investment editor. She graduated from the University of Southampton with a BA in English and History, before going on to complete a graduate diploma in law at the College of Law in Guildford. She joined MoneyWeek in 2014 and writes on funds, personal finance, pensions and property.