From cancelled flights to lost data: your rights and the regulators that can help

FSCS SafetyNets HR

Photograph: Stocksy/Getty/Guardian

Whether it’s online fraud, a cancelled flight, or a bankrupt bank, a lot can go wrong for consumers in the UK today. A report by Which? found Brits lost an estimated £14.8bn through scams and e-commerce issues alone each year, spending 1.2bn hours dealing with such problems.

But in many ways, the UK – which is described as having “one of the strongest consumer rights frameworks in the world” in the same report – is well covered when it comes to safety nets if something goes wrong.

Public awareness of those rights is a different matter. Citizens Advice found less than a third of customers who had experienced issues in a regulated sector were aware of alternative dispute resolution (such as ombudsmen). Nikki Worden, a partner at the law firm Osborne Clarke, says people like Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert have done a good job of educating the public, but that more could be done, particularly in schools. “If we do [know about our rights], it’s more by accident than design,” she says.

So if you need a crash course in consumer protection, here’s how four common regulatory safety nets operate in their respective sectors.

UK consumers are protected via the Consumer Rights Act, which states that all products must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. Goods that aren’t can be rejected within 30 days of the date you took ownership of the product in return for a full refund. Customers have 14 days to change their minds and get a full refund for digital content or goods ordered at home, and services must be repeated or fixed if not carried out with reasonable care and skill. For purchases made via credit card, section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 states the credit card company must refund all purchases between £100 and £30,000 if you don’t get the service or item you paid for. In this instance, the credit card company is jointly liable if something goes wrong. This does not apply to purchases made via debit card or by bank transfer.

When Monarch Airlines went into administration in 2017, many of the travellers stranded abroad were compensated by Atol – the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence. Overall, Atol protects about 20 million travellers a year but coverage only applies if you book a holiday package (ie flight and accommodation or flight and car hire) directly with a provider that belongs to the scheme. Travellers should also receive an Atol certificate as soon as they’ve booked. For flights, EU passenger rights regulation says passengers are entitled to up to €600 per person for any flight delayed by more than three hours, a cancelled flight or if boarding is denied (because it’s overbooked, for example). For these rights to apply, the departure airport must be within the EU, or the flight must land in the EU and be operated by an EU-based carrier. UK passengers have six years to file a claim, but research from AirHelp suggests up to 50% who have experienced a disrupted flight don’t do so.

Banking, pensions and insurance
UK customer deposits up to £85,000 are protected through the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) if a bank, building society or credit union goes into administration. The organisation, which was established by the government in 2001, also covers customers in the insurance, pensions and mortgage sectors, and can consider mis-selling and bad advice claims (typically up to £50,000, but set to rise to £85,000 after 1 April). To be eligible for compensation, providers must have been regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and have since gone into administration, although some products, such as peer-to-peer lending and payday loans are not covered.

“In 2017/18 we paid out £405m in compensation … [and] had about 70,000 claims in total,” FSCS chief corporate affairs officer Alex Kuczynski says. “Pensions have been an increasing share of that … roughly £185m related specifically to pensions and investment advice compensation claims.”

Data protection
The Data Protection Act 2018 governs how your personal information can be used by businesses or the government. It states personal data must be used fairly, lawfully and transparently, for specified purposes, in a way that is limited to what is necessary (and for no longer than necessary), and handled in a secure manner. The public has the right to enquire, via its designated data protection officer or company secretary, about what information organisations hold about you and how it’s being used, and can request it be deleted. They must respond within one month. If you’re unhappy with their response and feel your data has been misused, you can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). In 2018, Facebook was fined £500,000 by the ICO for failing to protect user data after it allowed third parties to access information without user consent.

This article should not take the place of independent legal advice

For more information about how FSCS protects your money, visit


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