The UK's momentous vote to leave the EU marks the dawn of an unprecedented period of uncertainty for business. The precise nature of the UK's future relationship with the EU and the impact this will have for businesses on their arrangements with consumers is currently unknown, with there being a number of possible models for the future UK/EU trade structure post-Brexit.
Whilst some of the UK consumer protection regime has derived from Europe, these rights have become part of UK law by the passing of UK specific legislation by parliament. It is unclear at present what approach any future government will adopt in connection with this existing regime. Furthermore, the specific impact is likely to depend on how businesses interact with customers, in which jurisdictions these contracts are entered into, as well as the particular sector within which a business operates.
Brexit is unlikely to have been envisaged by most boardrooms when setting up their current consumer facing business and is therefore unlikely to be expressly dealt with in most policies, websites and terms and conditions. Businesses offering goods, digital content and services to consumers will need to give careful thought to their arrangements and understand what the Brexit impact will be. This audit should apply to both new and existing arrangements. So what could the impacts be on the customer journey?
Legal risks - there are potential impacts across the entire customer journey. Could Brexit amount to force majeure or trigger a right to terminate? How are any references to the EU likely to be interpreted postBrexit? This is more likely to be an issue for businesses operating within a highly regulated sector, or for those selling to customers internationally. It will be important to understand what you presently say on rights to vary the goods, digital content or services, or how they may be impacted by changes to the consumer protection regime in the future. Price variation wording is likely to need careful consideration as exchange rates may continue to fluctuate.
Commercial risks - there will be wider commercial impacts on the consumer journey, particularly for businesses operating internationally. Whether the present legal regime changes or not, it is likely that an increasing divergence between the rights of UK citizens compared with their European counterparts could develop over time, causing cost and practical issues for those businesses looking to streamline and align international operations.