EU Referendum

UK and the EU: Consumer affairs

Stats and facts

The protection of consumers has been one of the most high-profile areas of the EU's workload.

The growth of online shopping has meant that many consumers not only look beyond their local High Street when choosing what to buy, they also cross national borders when shopping digitally.

At the heart of EU rules is the concept that, generally, a shopper in any member state cannot be charged a higher price when buying products or services owing to their nationality or country of residence.

Traders must provide shoppers with clear, correct and understandable information about the product, and make the total price - including taxes and charges - clear to the consumer.

The consequence has been many hundreds of pages of rules that affect consumers' rights, some of which have led to confusion over how they dovetail with existing UK law.

Thousands of complaints are also made by UK consumers about traders in the EU, primarily about transport, restaurants and accommodation.

UK-EU consumer affairs


UK consumers contacted the UK European Consumer Centre with cross-border problems in 2014

  • 30% of these complaints were about transport

  • 27% of these complaints were about restaurants and accommodation

  • 3.5p cap per minute on surcharge for mobile calls in other EU countries from 30 April 2016


What does the EU do?

There have been EU directives - goals that all member states must achieve - that led to some consumer rights being enshrined in law.

The Consumer Sales Directive ensured that consumers have a statutory right to a repair or replacement of a faulty or misdescribed good. Previously, repairs or replacements were agreed between consumers and traders, but there was no right in law.

The Consumer Rights Directive, which led to the UK's Consumer Rights Act, amended some existing rules such as a 14-day cancellation period for purchases made at a distance - normally online - or from a trader who sells to consumers in their home.

The directive also required that any refunds for faulty goods must be given within 14 days.

One of the most high-profile moves has been the impending cap and subsequent ban on the extra costs of using a mobile phone in other EU countries.

Data roaming charges were capped until 30 April, and will be banned from June 2017 meaning tourists in EU countries will pay the same mobile fees as at home if they live in an EU member state.

...and what doesn't it do?

There is no EU cross-border equivalent of trading standards.

There is a network of European Consumer Centres, including one in the UK, which offers guidance to consumers. However, it does not have any enforcement powers and cannot compel traders to take any action or accept its point of view.

At times, new EU rules do not offer extra protection to UK consumers. For example, protection for shoppers using their credit card for purchases of more than £100 had already been in place for 30 years in the UK and were retained when the EU's Consumer Credit Directive was published.

UK opt-outs to EU rules?


The argument for leaving the EU

The protection of consumers is not dependent on membership of the EU. In fact, controlling all of the legislation in this area would make the rules more streamlined and relevant to UK consumers.

The argument for staying in the EU

By leaving the EU, the existing protection for consumers will be put at risk and there is a danger that prices could rise for UK consumers shopping in the rest of the EU via the internet.

Read more:

All you need to know about the UK's EU referendum

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