The new UK Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA) has caused concern in some quarters, particularly given the potential impact on the transport sector of some of the new remedies it creates. In particular, outside of the CRA, the maritime, aviation and rail sectors already have their own industry-specific legal regimes providing remedies to passengers when transport services are disrupted or subject to delays or cancellations. The new statutory remedies in the CRA – which could sit alongside those regimes - have the potential to cause overlap and confusion amongst industry and the travelling public alike.
The implementation date for the services sections of the CRA has been deferred until 6 April 2016 for consumer transport services in the maritime, aviation and rail sectors. However, there is also an ongoing government consultation, the outcome of which is expected in the first quarter of 2016, which advocates the exemption for those sectors from certain provisions.
The EU maritime sector’s compensation regime is governed by EU Regulation 1177/2010 which establishes compensation, refund and other entitlements where services are delayed or cancelled. However, cruise passengers are only covered by this regulation if they embark at an EU port and, importantly, they are not covered by some of the provisions concerning delays.
It may have been hoped by passengers of cruise ships that the new CRA, which in part consolidates existing statutes and introduces new remedies, would provide them with four new statutory rights:
- To have services performed with reasonable skill and care.
- To have services performed within a reasonable time.
- To have services performed for a reasonable price.
- To have services performed in conformity with information provided about the service by a trader on which the consumer has relied.
The remedies available for breach of these rights are either:
- To have the service properly performed by it being performed again (unless that is impossible).
- To provide a reduction in price, which could be a complete refund.
Contractual terms which seek to exclude any of these remedies are prohibited.
For the maritime, aviation and rail sectors, it is proposed that an exemption be enacted enabling operators to continue to limit their liability by way of their contracts with their passengers to, as the Consultation Paper puts it, “existing and well-established sector-specific compensation arrangements that already provide a significant level of consumer protection”.
If the Department of Transport seeks an exemption for the maritime sector in the CRA and it is granted, then cruise passengers will be in no better position than they currently are.
Whilst this is potentially good news for cruise lines, until the Department of Transport has reached a decision as to whether to seek exemption, it remains a case of “watching this space” in relation to cruise passenger compensation for delays, cancellation or denial of boarding.