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Darren Jones MP speaks out on airlines’ unfair additional charges

Yesterday I spoke in Westminster Hall to highlight the issue of airlines’ additional charges, as they potentially break consumer law.

WATCH the full video here, and read my full speech below:

Here is the full text of the speech:

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, and I congratulate Vicky Ford on securing this debate and on her excellent opening remarks. I declare my interests, as in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: previously I was a legal counsel at BT responsible for, among other things, consumer law compliance.

The UK is a leader in consumer rights, exemplified, as Luke Graham said, by the Consumer Rights Act, in which we went above and beyond European requirements, but that direction of travel has been, in my view, driven by the European Union. As we prepare for Brexit, whatever that might mean, it is vital that we protect both our current legal framework and our future policy commitments to maintain strong consumer protections in the UK. If we maintain access to the European single market, as is my preference, ensuring equivalence in consumer law in the future will be vital.

In my previous role, I attended the annual consumer law conference in Brussels, hosted by the European Commission. I was there on behalf of not only business but consumer groups and other stakeholders. It was agreed, among a very large group of stakeholders, that the consumer law framework provided by the European Union and legislated for here in the UK was pretty good. The key issue, however, was enforcement of those consumer rights. It is vital that we keep that in mind in this Parliament too, not only through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but in what we do next, after the date of Brexit.

I have had the pleasure, or misfortune depending on one’s viewpoint, of rewriting and simplifying consumer terms and conditions for TV, broadband, mobile services and such like, hence my declaration at the top. Having to take out liability clauses, disclaimers and warranties and trying to reach, as I did in that example, for Plain English Crystal Marks and simplifications for consumers brings us lawyers out in a bit of a cold sweat. We must call on businesses in a regulatory-friendly manner to innovate in the way they communicate with customers. We know that customers tend not to read even a short number of pages on terms and conditions, so how can we ensure that, where the law already provides, they are made aware of particularly onerous terms? I, for example, commissioned a short video explaining that in two minutes. Whether anybody watched the video, let alone read the terms and conditions, time will tell.

From my own experience, we must have two aims—first, that customers understand what it is they are signing up to, which is the law today, and secondly, that they know how to enforce their rights and that they choose to do so. Although this is an issue across many sectors, I will make some remarks today about the airline industry, which is topical because of the issues with Ryanair in recent weeks. As the hon. Member for Chelmsford said, millions of constituents across the country fly to the European Union every year. Although we must protect important safeguards on cancellations and flight delays through Brexit, we must also remember the enforcement of domestic consumer rights.

Many of our constituents suffer the annual annoyance of additional charges for printing boarding passes, booking seats, or getting a bag on to a flight when they thought those things were included. Many airlines market through comparison websites, which may require further regulation in future. They show the single fare-only price without the additional charges. So when customers think about getting the best deal for their flights, sometimes they are unaware that the airlines may be bulking out their revenues by stinging customers with additional charges at the point of service.

Additional charges in themselves are not unfair or a problem, but when many customers do not know about them until it is too late or have no idea how to enforce their rights when they have been subjected to unfair treatment, such charges become a problem. I myself have experienced that problem. On a recent flight to Iceland with Wow airlines, my wife and I were forced to pay £75 to get our on-board luggage through the departure gate. That was more than the price of the ticket itself. As a consumer rights lawyer, I said, “Don’t worry; let’s pay the fee. I’ll complain and get a refund. I know this consumer law business.” However, I faced a bit of a problem.

It transpired that the acceptable size for on-board baggage on Wow airlines is significantly smaller than for other budget airlines, but the online order journey did not make that clear. I have a penchant for terms and conditions and compliance with online order journeys and am particularly astute at watching out for such things, but I was unaware of that difference. I challenged Wow airlines when I returned from a lovely trip to Iceland, but the customer service was awful. I had copy and paste responses to my question. Clearly, other customers had challenged it because the company gave copy and paste answers. When I challenged the detail of the answer, I was told that the company would no longer speak to me.

I therefore complained to the ombudsman. The consumer ombudsman, which is a voluntary organisation for certain sectors and businesses, approached the airline, but it refused to take part in the voluntary scheme. I then drafted a letter before claim setting out in detail, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, how the airline had breached consumer law in the UK, and I sent it to the chief executive officer in Reykjavik. Normally at this point I get a response, but on this occasion I got no response. I still hold that the additional charges point on baggage, where Wow airlines does not make it clear that its size restrictions are smaller than for other budget airlines, is a breach of consumer law. I feel that I and my constituents and others are due a refund for an unenforceable charge. Having raised the issue with the airline’s customer services team, the ombudsman, the chief executive and now Parliament, I look forward to a response.

The issue is not just about my story. In advance of this debate I posted a survey online to ask my constituents to tell me their stories, which were broadly similar. Most of the affected customers who completed my survey were annoyed about the additional baggage charges and also about seat reservations. Of those charged for their baggage, 75% had used the bag that they used for on-board storage with other airlines, and they did not know they could not use that bag on the airline that imposed the additional charge. Some 60% did not know about the charges at the point of booking, or they might have measured the suitcase. Again, these are unenforceable additional charges under consumer law.

To make matters worse, nearly 60% of complainants paid the fee, but then did not complain. A clear majority had no idea that they could go to the Civil Aviation Authority or others for support. Of all the customers in my survey who did complain, only one received a refund. Everybody else was either fobbed off or ignored.

Behind the statistics are families going on their holidays. Many of my constituents who use budget airlines and rely on other similar services save up throughout the year for a special time with their families during the summer holidays. It is a major expense in the annual budget of those consumers. The way in which the families are being treated is unacceptable.

But the issue with unaffordability comes at the departure gate when customers who use comparison websites and book flights they can afford based on the ticket price alone have no choice but to take the flight and go on their summer holiday with their children or go home. That is why additional charges need to be highlighted effectively and why families need the ability to enforce their rights.

One family told me a story about when they turned up at the airport in Bristol. They had not printed their boarding passes and were told they needed to pay £70 for them to be made available. If that was not bad enough, they then realised that they needed to pay an additional £75 for their children to sit next to them because they had not paid for the seat reservations. Why should families have to pay to make sure that their children can sit next to them and pay for the printed boarding pass when it is perhaps available on their phone? Again, those customers knew nothing about the charges and were stung as a consequence of the lack of compliance with consumer law.

Some sectors are better than others in their compliance with consumer law. The best brands, as we have heard this afternoon, understand that building consumer trust is good for businesses and that putting the customer first is therefore a sensible strategy. Under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015, with the introduction of the concept of digital goods and services, we are making strides forward, but we must recognise that the law is already becoming out of date in the way in which the new digital economies are working.

To go to my original point, as we prepare for whatever Brexit means for the UK, it is vital that we not only protect our current framework of consumer law but that we work with our European colleagues to enhance the enforcement of consumer rights. We must continue to lead the debate as markets rapidly change and ensure that we protect our constituents not only under current law and in current markets but in future. I look to the Government to help us deliver that.

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Darren Jones MP votes against the government’s Brexit bill

Darren today voted against the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill, which proposes handing over huge powers to the government from Parliament. It also proposes getting rid of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Here’s Darren explaining why he voted the way he did:

We have the first round of important votes next week on Brexit. This is why I’m voting against the EU Withdrawal Bill on Monday.

I’ve just come from the House of Commons, where I listened to Brexit Secretary David Davies introduce what’s called the “second reading” of the EU Withdrawal Bill.

I’ve always been clear on my views about Brexit. I think it’s a disaster. But my deep concern about this Bill isn’t about Brexit. It’s about the fact that the Bill, as worded, is a massive power grab by the government.

You elect an MP to represent you in Parliament. I have one vote on behalf of about 100,000 of you. You therefore get a say on what this country does. That’s why the Prime Minister must get votes through Parliament to do stuff.

The EU Withdrawal Bill gives the Prime Minister and her Ministers the legal right to make stuff up without requiring a vote in Parliament. That means that lots of the rights you have from EU law (such as maternity leave, holiday pay, consumer rights and much more) could be changed by a Minister without a debate and vote in Parliament. That means I can’t vote against the Government to protect your rights being changed.

The Bill doesn’t have to be this way. The purpose of it is to copy and paste EU law into UK law so that, if we leave entirely, the laws that we have today carry on as they are. But the Government is using this Bill to increase its power in a way which hasn’t been done before.

Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are accountable to Parliament so that – through me – they’re accountable to you. This Bill fundamentally changes the way that Parliament works.

It’s for that reason that I won’t be voting for it.

The final vote on this bill will be in the next few months. Keep your eyes peeled for more news and views on this from your MP for Bristol North West, Darren Jones.

 

 

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Darren raises post-Brexit education funding with government

Brexit could have a devastating effect on public services, because they are funded by taxes and Brexit will cripple our tax receipts to the tune of up to £100 billion for 50 years (Berenberg Bank and OBR).

And as well as a possible tax receipt hit of £100 billion over the next 50 years, up to £100 billion of taxes will have to instead be spent on the EU ‘divorce bill’.

Education is a vital public service and so Darren raised it with the relevant minister, writing

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment she has made of the effect on forecasted funding for her Department in the event that the UK leaves the EU and only operates as a member of the WTO in its trading relationship with the EU.

Robert Goodwill, a Minister of State for the Department of Education, replied

As part of our preparations for exiting the European Union, the Government is in the process of carrying out a programme of rigorous and extensive analytical work across departments. This programme will contribute to our exit negotiations with the European Union and inform our understanding of how EU exit will affect the United Kingdom’s domestic policies and frameworks. This Department’s interests will be fully considered as part of this process and we are planning for a range of scenarios, working alongside HM Treasury and the Department for Exiting the European Union.

It is perhaps disappointing that the government cannot deliver an answer on this forecasted funding.

Agree with Darren? Keep updated on everything he’s doing here: https://www.facebook.com/darrenjonesmp/?fref=ts

 

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Darren challenges the governments on their Brexit plans for the South West

Brexit could have up to a -6% effect on UK GDP (LSE European Institute). There are additional challenges for the South West, with parts of it set to lose guaranteed EU funding. With these issues looming on the horizen, Darren asked the government whether they were planning for them. He wrote to them

To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, what regional impact assessments his Department has conducted to measure the economic consequences of the Government’s model for leaving the EU; and what method of consultation and representation his Department has implemented with local authorities in the South West on negotiations with the EU and on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

Robin Walker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Exiting The European Union

The Department for Exiting the EU, working with officials across government, is undertaking a comprehensive programme of analytical work to assess, across a range of scenarios, the economic impacts of exiting the European Union for all areas of the UK. However, it would not be appropriate to publish details that could undermine the UK’s negotiating position with the EU.

As part of our commitment to hear from every sector and region in the UK, the Government and DExEU Ministers continue to engage extensively with regional stakeholders, and intend to continue this work throughout the exit process.

Ministers in the Department have visited the South West of England twice since the creation of the Department, and plan to return in the near future.

DExEU and the Department for Communities and Local Governments are working closely with the Local Government Association and regional partners across the country to understand clearly issues related to exit and to identify any regional implications.

In other words, there has been no concrete progress made on any of the processes Darren asked about.

 

Agree with Darren? Keep updated on everything he’s doing here: https://www.facebook.com/darrenjonesmp/?fref=ts

Darren Jones MP asks the government about post-Brexit trade

Parts of the government’s argument for how they can make Brexit a success rely on changing the WTO rules. With this in mind, Darren wrote to the government and said the following:

To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade, with reference to the Prime Minister’s statement of 10 July 2017, Official Report, column 26, on the G20 summit, what rule changes he has requested from the WTO relating to the (a) services and (b) digital sector.

Mark Garnier MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary

replied:

As the Prime Minister and Department for International Trade ministers have set out, the UK is a founding member and active participant in the ongoing work of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This includes an active involvement in services and the digital sector, where we continue to advocate for services trade liberalisation and are encouraging members to restart negotiations on the ambitious Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).

On the digital economy, we are working with other WTO Member States to achieve a positive outcome at the Ministerial Conference in December 2017. This includes working with developing and least developed countries as a core supporter of UNCTAD’s ‘eTrade for All’ initiative which seeks to improve the ability of developing countries to benefit from e-commerce.

Agree with Darren? Keep updated on everything he’s doing here: https://www.facebook.com/darrenjonesmp/?fref=ts

 

Darren asks the government about Brexit’s impact on Services and the digital sector

Darren wrote:

To ask the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, what assessment he has made of the effect on the UK’s (a) services and (b) digital sector in the event that the UK leaves the EU and only operates as a member of the WTO in its trading relationship with the EU.

Robin Walker, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Exiting The European Union, answered:

The UK Government is focused on getting the best possible deal with the EU to ensure that the Services and Digital sectors can continue to trade as freely as possible.

The Department for Exiting the European Union, working with officials across government, continues to undertake a wide range of analysis to support our negotiations. This is part of the government’s continued programme of rigorous and extensive analytical work on a range of scenarios.

Agree with Darren? Keep updated on everything he’s doing here: https://www.facebook.com/darrenjonesmp/?fref=ts

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Darren challenges the Prime Minister on Brexit in Parliament

WATCH HERE:

At the moment, if we get no deal with the EU after Brexit we will be subject to WTO rules when trading with them. The Prime Minister had answered concerns about this by saying we could reform these rules.

Darren asked:

I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and note her efforts to reform the World Trade Organisation rules in order that they keep up with the services and digital sectors, which are crucial to the British economy. Does she agree that any reform of the WTO rules will take longer than the time we have left before the UK crashes out of EU without a trade deal in 2019?

The Prime Minister replied:

One point of my comments at the G20 was that we need to speed up how the WTO considers these issues. Looking at the trade rules around the digital economy is not being started from scratch; the WTO has been doing it for some time. We just need to ensure that we get on with it and get those rules set.

Agree with Darren? Keep updated on everything he’s doing here: https://www.facebook.com/darrenjonesmp/?fref=ts.

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Darren Jones MP makes his Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

All new Members of Parliament make a “Maiden Speech” before they can fully start their work as an MP. Darren made his during the Queen’s Speech debate on Brexit. Read more

Darren writes to Brexit Secretary to protect Airbus jobs in Bristol

Airbus announced that they would leave the UK if trade negotiations with the EU over Brexit fail to deliver single market equivalence. Read more