Brexit: the outlook for consumers
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) has wide-ranging implications. Our experience helping 2.7 million people a year makes Citizens Advice well-placed to highlight some of the most significant risks and opportunities associated with Brexit. And as a consumer champion that assists with 778,000 consumer problems annually, we are ideally situated to examine its wider policy implications.
Our report, ‘Brexit: the outlook for consumers [ 2 mb]’, does this in three ways. First, it looks at the short-term uncertainty that our advisers have reported since the referendum result. Second, it draws on our commissioned research [ 0.76 mb] to set out some of the possible effects of our departure on essential markets and their consumers. And third, it examines the longer term opportunities for reshaping the wider consumer landscape.
- Short-term uncertainty - our advisers are experiencing increased demand for Brexit-related advice, particularly at key political milestones. Demand spiked at the triggering of article 50, for example, and after phase one of our negotiations with the EU concluded. Many clients are worried about the effects of Brexit on their immigration status, welfare entitlements and the goods they purchased abroad. Clear, well-communicated advice is essential so that people aren’t exposed to risks posed by this uncertainty.
- The medium-term impact on consumers - the research we commissioned shows that Brexit could have wide-ranging implications for consumers. This is particularly likely if the government negotiates a partial Free Trade Agreement (FTA) or no deal at all. But regardless of the final relationship, we believe that consumers should not face any reduction in their rights or the range and quality of products which they can purchase. To secure good outcomes for consumers, the government should also engage with consumer organisations such as Citizens Advice during the transition process.
- Reshaping the consumer landscape in the long-term - beyond the pros and cons of our decision to leave the EU, there are opportunities to improve outcomes for consumers in the longer term. The UK has historically been a pioneer of consumer rights. Brexit should serve as an opportunity to reinvigorate the consumer landscape going forward and ensure regulators are well-equipped to deal with new domestic policy opportunities in the years ahead.
- The government should ensure that good quality information and advice are available in order to reduce - as far as possible - the uncertainty that people face about Brexit.
- The government should engage with consumer organisations to ensure any regulatory change and divergence leads to positive consumer outcomes, as it negotiates FTAs and leads Britain out of the EU.
- The government should seize the opportunities provided by Brexit to reshape the consumer landscape, making sure that rights are protected, poorly functioning markets are reformed and regulators are well-equipped to carry out enforcement activity.