Brexit - What should Consumers be thinking about?

I am disgusted.

This blog post is tagged with:

Consumer Rights Employment Pensions Health Medicines Brexit

I am disgusted with our political classes and with some media commentators.

The Nation has been led on a merry dance since January 2016 and we can now see, that the clueless direction that we are heading in, simply masks illegality, lack of planning and downright opportunism.

The people of the UK are the playthings of politicians and some media commentators, offering simple messages of having important rights ‘transferred’ onto the UK statute books and that nothing will change. These simple messages are also accompanied by those who think that 40+ years of Treaty and law-making, can be replaced by reciprocal agreements at the drop of a hat. The naiveté is astonishing; politicians have failed to explain the legal complexity of brexit and commentators are gifted with a dangerous flippancy that has no basis in reality.

The people of the UK, my fellow Consumers, have been failed at every political level and in certain areas of the media, through lack of fact, analysis and information to help them prepare for the storm ahead. Our precious society should not be used by these players as some vast experiment to suit their own agenda - it would appear that the concept of service and creating an ordered society has been abandoned for the most ridiculous path this Nation has ever taken.

I am really concerned for the stability of ordinary people’s lives, but in expressing that concern, I am mindful of the many have-nots that populate our towns and cities. The maelstrom about to be released upon this country, no matter the guarantees, no matter the advices handed out by people like me, will not make a scrap of difference to their lives. Those lives are dictated by the daily grind of living hand-to-mouth and no amount of brexit will change their position; they are truly the forgotten Consumers of our society.

For those who ‘have’ (and that proves to be a wide definition and debate), there is little or no commentary of how people should approach Brexit-Day; I will try to address that deficit by offering some basic key pointers that ‘Consumers’ should consider. 

In using the term ‘Consumer’, I am using a much broader definition which involves those in employment, have private pension plans, requirements on healthcare and so on. As we approach this soon-to-be infamous day, I would recommend that ‘Consumers’ think of the following issues:

  1. Check your employment contract. We have now heard a litany of companies raising the alarm over a ‘no-deal’ or unsatisfactory ‘brexit’. The sum of those concerns lay in the claim that supply chains may be disrupted or the inability to trade from the UK into Europe, without a comprehensive trade deal. I would recommend that you now check your employment contract and understand issues surrounding lay-offs, dismissal and/or the redundancy process. So few people read their contracts for fear that they wont be able to understand the legal gobbledygook. Now is not the time to shy away from this important document - understand potential processes, timeframes and your rights. If you can join a Trade Union, perhaps now is the time to consider that option, just in case you need access to representation or legal advices!
  2. Check your company’s trading position. If you are working in a public-listed or AIM company, check statements made to the stock-market as to their trading position. What are they saying to the world at large about their trading? If they trade heavily with Europe, have they made any changes which suggest that operations could be based elsewhere? If your company is not publicly-listed, what have they said to the workforce or within an annual statement? Does your company actually export to Europe and the wider world, or is it a company that is part of the supply chain or does it purely service a UK domestic market? If none of this is evident, ask the managers or directors as to their view of life for the company after Brexit-Day? Understand the UK economic position and how economic-shocks to the UK will affect spending power; does that have an impact on your company? Asking questions and checking for facts is perfectly legitimate and will help you prepare for any difficult issues ahead;
  3. Never assume anything about your Pension. If you have a workplace or Stakeholders Pension, you need to check that everything is in order. So many people receive documents from employers or Pension Companies and fail to read the detail; when was the last time you went online to check the operation of your Pension? For example, are payments being made on time? Can you see if there has been a ‘consistent late payment pattern’? How does your Pension Department react if you confront them about your late payments? Does your Pension scheme have Trustees/Administrators - do you know who they are? So many people fail to keep a check on this valuable employee benefit and so many fail to confront employer failures; the past is littered with employees, who through no fault of their own, eventually found that not everything was as it should have been with their Pension. Make sure you: Check, Challenge and complain to the Pensions Ombudsman if you don't get satisfactory answers!
  4. Think Debt - Consolidate. The crash of 2008 did cause many people to adjust their thinking on credit and savings, but, the country is still as addicted to debt as it ever was. Now is the time to carry out that health-check on your finances! Do you actually understand the debt-load you are carrying? What would happen if you were made redundant? What financial-cushion do you have against the effects of redundancy? Are you paying high interest? Do you have a debt to earnings level that is equal to or in excess of those earnings? Answers that indicate a potential risk or negative exposure to any of these questions should send alarm bells ringing, particularly if you are not on a fixed-interest rate (here I am thinking of mortgages). This is the time to check your debt and look to consolidate; relieve the pressure, just in case you are subject to a drop in earnings (say for example if an agreement is made to reduce earnings to keep a company in operation) or a job change dictates a drop in earning capacity. Whatever you do, do not leave this to chance!
  5. Think outgoings - shop around! The other day I was talking to one young couple who were lamenting about how their satellite TV package had increased from £40 per month to just under £100 per month. I've heard similar stories from Consumers about car insurance which appears to be engaged in a gradual-creep-upwards in cost. The common factor in all these stories is that many joined those companies because of their good introduction deals, but once they have got you, there is no loyalty or real desire to keep you as their customer, many failing to offer the same deal as another provider. The simple rule is this: if you are close to the end of your contract with that provider, don't let it roll over, shop around, get a better deal, reduce your outgoings but always check that contract before signing and make sure you know for how long and what you are signing up for! Loyalty towards customers does not appear to exist; practice the same hardness in your transactions!
  6. What insurance cover have you got? Many Consumers do not understand what insurance cover they may hold. Insurance protection is vital to help you manage any difficulty raised by redundancy, pensions, debt or legal assistance. Insurance can make the difference for example, if you are made redundant, to keep you on your feet for a period of time, ensuring that issues of housing and day-to-day living expenses are supported. It is important that you check your employment, trade union membership, certain bank accounts, credit cards, house insurance or indeed any other insurance or potential source for the existence of such policies. When you make that search and find such policies, ensure that you obtain a copy of the terms and conditions and understand what you are covered for; make sure you know how you can claim against the policy if the worst should happen to your employment;
  7. Get that Health-Check. Life since 2008 and particularly since 2016, has proven to be stressful due to the great uncertainty during this period. Each day, we as Consumers of the UK’s Health Service hear of the stresses and strains on the NHS and how difficult decisions will have to be made, particularly in the post-Brexit period; we should take nothing for granted. One way in which you can insure against this uncertainty is to get a health-check to address any niggling concerns you may have. It may seem a departure from advising on Consumer Rights, but speaking with your GP, seeking reassurance on your health, being tested for any concerns you may have, could result in quick and early diagnosis and therefore prompt treatment. This will inform you where your health stands and ensure that you receive treatment in advance of any limitations in accessing that service. It also demonstrates good proactivity to any insurer with whom you have health insurance with, either privately or at work!
  8. Medicines. We have all heard by now of the concerns on medicine stocks. Even as I write this, I find it shocking that our own government is prepared to risk a wider Citizen-health, all for the sake of satisfying the notion of the ‘will of the people’. If you are asthmatic, diabetic, have high-blood-pressure or indeed any ailment requiring regular monitoring and medication, this could potentially affect you. You are a Consumer of our health service and the ‘contract’ that currently exists between you and that Service provides that your health will be catered for. There are many patient-representative bodies that you could subscribe to; in those forums you can understand the issues and make your voice heard. I would also recommend that if your surgery has a patients/stakeholders committee, that you attend their meetings and become a member. This will ensure that the NHS will hear your opinion, particularly on the issue of medical supplies. Finally, I would recommend that you always keep your medical supplies in check; know what you have and make sure that you make timely applications for re-prescriptions;
  9. Understand Consumer Rights. Never at any time has the issue of Consumer Rights been more relevant! Do not be persuaded that those rights, which most Consumers take for granted, are simply going to be formally incorporated into UK Law. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that there is a either a wider de-regulatory agenda at play or concerns that a future government will renege on any future deal. The longevity of our rights is not necessarily guaranteed. One consideration used by legislators is to determine the use of those Rights or Obligations, imposed by law and whether they are ‘viable’ or used at all. There is a saying: ‘If you don't use it, you will lose it’. As we lose access to public bodies to help us with our Consumer Complaints (we have lost previous good Trading Standards help due to budgetary cuts since 2010 and we will lose access to the network of European Consumer Centres in the UK), we need to equip ourselves with knowledge of our Rights. We also need to ensure that rather than acting in haste, by running to Arbitration or into the Small Claims Court when we have a complaint, that we understand the detail of those rights, whether they relate to travel (eg: Package Travel Regulations/Air Passenger Rights), or to buying online (eg: Consumer Rights Act/Unfair Trading Regulations) (Note: Ironically, all these laws originated via the EU). We will have to not just know of their presence, but of the subtle or obvious changes made in the UK, AND, the full rights within the EU, because, despite Brexit, we shall continue to transact more and more online, with companies based in the EU; we will have to adapt to resolution possibilities within the EU area!

The controversial set of points that I raise, cut to the very heart of what binds our lives as Consumers. Earning and spending power are intricately connected, keeping our family units secure whilst servicing Consumerism. It is a pity that when making their pronouncements that politicians and some media commentators do not think beyond their own comfortable sphere; the time has come for Consumers to risk-assess what they have taken for granted and prepare for a very different world ahead!