As we appear to be driving headlong into the world of Brexit and beyond, I cannot help but wonder about the lack of discussion or clarity on Consumer issues.
This deficit is specifically highlighted in the field of travel. It is becoming clear to me that politicians only have several interests; balancing their fears of upsetting the electorate with some ‘wait and see’ magic, against a running commentary about trade, and nothing else!
The storm that is coming masks what I believe are the ‘sins’ about to be visited upon the British Consumer. The now evident lies and deceit behind this brexit ‘decision’ can no longer hide the reality of what is about to hit the Consumer, on so many different levels.
As I have passed through airports this summer, I have looked around at the many families, who are probably trying to block out this political savagery, simply trying to get on with the normality of their lives. Why are my thoughts on this so important; for the simple reason that the issues of travel are important to the average British Consumer, because each year they spend a sizeable proportion of their disposable income on what has become a necessity?
Come what may, ordinary Consumers are going to have to snap themselves out of the nether-world of non-engagement and wake up to the coming new normality in travel.
In order to prepare Consumers for this brave new world, it is important to set out the key areas that brexit will change for many holidaymakers:
- Currency. This aspect has been with us since 27 June 2016, when we saw a fall of 20% in the value of the UK £. Great news we heard for exporters, but for those holidaymakers, it represented a fall in the value of what they could afford when they went abroad. For the last couple of years we have seen that fall stabilise to around 15%, but, the winds of change are upon us, Brexit draws closer and will no doubt cause further fluctuations (leaving aside any fluctuations experienced in the costs of using credit/debit cards); leaving the relatively safe harbours of the EU will expose our new-found sovereignty to further currency exchange fluctuations, that Consumers may feel from the Trump factor!
- The Return of Duty-Free or is it? This summer, Consumers have reported to me their astonishment that they could not buy their favourite tipple to bring on holiday. It appears that some drinks were not allowed to be imported into the EU (even though we are still in the EU)! I understand that staff could not explain the logic, but if we assume that a particular bottle size has been produced for an external EU Market, that may explain it? But what about prices? Well, you may be likely to see some fall, but then you will be saddled with having to declare those items you have bought when we enter the EU as a third-country citizen! We may be also limited in what we can carry into the EU and those controls will likely be imposed in reverse when we return to the UK!
- The return of the Blue-Passport! We now realise that the colour of our own passport was always our own choice. The real issue is how we will navigate border controls. Remember, we shall be Citizens of a third-country and therefore bound by entry requirements. We will likely have to join the ‘non-EU’ passport queue and that will possibly mean delay when you arrive at your destination!
- ETIAS! The European Travel Information & Authorisation System is a pre-clearance security system being introduced in Europe. It appears that if we as third-country citizens wish to travel into Europe we will have to purchase an ETIAS before travel. This is not something that arose because of Brexit, but out of the security attacks in Europe and no-doubt from standardising security practices from around the globe. The new ETIAS will cost €7 and will last for 3 years - that’s €7 per passenger and it will require you to renew the visa before expiry and pay any subsequent renewal fee latterly imposed (currently it suggests a one-off fee)!
- Roaming Charges. As Consumers, we have become used to the convenience of paying the same telephone bill on holiday as we do at home. Once we leave the EU, it is likely that we shall lose that legal right and become subject to any ‘initiatives’ by the telecoms companies; we will likely see our phone bills rise accordingly;
- EHIC Cards. It now seems likely that we shall lose our access to the European Health Insurance Card. This valuable piece of protection helps holidaymakers when they need medical treatment, receiving it either free or at a reduced cost, with the surplus being taken up by travel insurance or through a small contribution, which you can claim back upon your return to the UK. Once lost, it will mean that as a ‘third-country’ we shall have to pay slightly more for travel insurance and that travel insurance will very probably adopt the practice of requiring very clear declarations on health and will probably require you to pay an excess of around 20% toward the cost of your treatment in the EU - this is not scare tactics, this is the likely reality!
- Travel Rights. The UK Government has made much about transporting EU Law onto the UK Statute books; this is designed to provide reassurance that ‘nothing will change’. However, the reality is three-fold: firstly, some of the Regulations require cross-border enforcement - unless there is a separate reciprocal agreement for each cross border element, the provision providing you with protection will be redundant. Secondly, an important aspect to remember is that some travel companies already operate on mainland Europe and you will likely see their terms and conditions change as a result of brexit - this all cuts to the heart of the ease of enforcing your rights! Thirdly, it is clear that current political thought is geared to create a deregulated society. Therefore, standby to witness either attempts or positive acts being made to change Consumer protections, by being controversially red-lined by a Minister, with little or no Parliamentary scrutiny (partially through the sheer volume of changes that will eventually be made), using the now famous Henry VIII clauses!
- Enforcement. If you are in a situation whereby you want to try and enforce your rights, you may be bound by the terms and conditions of your holiday contract, whereby you have to take action in an EU Member state (unless of course there is a reciprocal agreement to allow you to continue action in the UK). But again, unless there are reciprocal agreements in place to allow for transported laws to have equal affect in the UK, then enforcement bodies such as the CAA or the Competition and Markets Authority will be powerless; the European Consumer Centre will be no more. Couple these factors against the loss of being able to bring a small claim for up to €5,000 (under the EU Small Claims Procedure), before your local county court, against a travel provider based in Europe (unless there is a reciprocal agreement), it all adds to some serious detriment. But, on the question of detriment, consider this: whilst everyone has been diverted by brexit and Love Island, the UK Government has quietly changed the rules on how you can bring your travel claim to court - Consumers will be very much on their own, trying to fathom the unpredictability that is the small claims court!
- Safety. At this time, the biggest threat to Consumers and their desire to travel is through the loss of the UK being in the EU’s Open Skies Agreement. But this is not just simply about airlines being able to freely operate throughout Europe, with all the advantages to Consumers, it is also about being part of the European Regulatory System that cuts to the heart of air transport safety, how the aircraft is built and work being done on Cabin Air Quality; leaving EASA is not a good idea! But it also cuts to the heart of our involvement on ships safety and general transport safety and being part of the debate on safety in holiday accommodation throughout Europe - we are leaving at a critical moment for Consumers!
- Pets. My final sin revealed relates to the many thousands of pets that are taken on holiday each year with their owners. No-one, not the Minister, the Government Department, nor any politician have openly discussed this important issue. Already there are reports of bureaucratic checks on pet passports at ports and great frustration amongst vets. The Pet Passport is an European initiative, supported by this country, particularly at the time of the UK Olympics in 2012; are we about to see the UK drop out of this scheme, thereby causing further detriment to UK pet-loving Consumers, or will there have to be another urgent reciprocal agreement?
We are living through tumultuous times and the risk apparent is that Consumers are not questioning or speaking up loudly for their rights; they are effectively drifting into this ‘new normal’.
It is not my intention to upset anyone who voted to leave or remain, but it is vitally important that Consumers understand the changes that are about to be made.
Since 1 January 2016, I have been trying to highlight a genuine analysis that suggests a real detriment to the travelling public. Whilst we have seen some broadcasters seeking to live in the perceived temple of balance, they have offered to the public questionable contributions whilst ignoring the voices that can offer a genuine balance.
it is now time for Consumers to understand and recognise what has been happening in their name and to either protest at the loss of important rights and protections, or, to prepare for a more difficult and dare I say, more expensive future in the world of travel; the Consumer is going to have to become a lot more savvy than they currently are!