Deal or no-deal, things change in January

We’re in the final, final days of negotiations over what our relationship with the EU might look like from January. 

The can has been kicked almost as far down the road as it can go and soon we will have some final clarity.

A no-deal end to the transition period will have a vast impact on our economy, potentially affecting everything from house prices to food costs.

Whether we crash out without a trade deal or move out with one, the end of the post-Brexit transition period will mean real changes for us all and could have an impact on wages, benefits and taxes.

Of course, some of the other ways it might affect our day-to-day lives have yet to be decided and some are, as yet, unknown.  

But here’s what we do know about how the world might change for our finances once the clock strikes midnight and we move into the next chapter.

First, and most important, from 1 January 2021, UK passport holders won’t be able to go into the EU for non-essential purposes, such as a holiday, due to coronavirus travel restrictions that apply to non-EU members. As things stand there is no word on when this might change or whether a last-minute amendment for the UK is even being considered.

So it’s probably best to hang fire on that big summer 2021 blowout until the situation becomes clearer on this and many, many other matters.

When restrictions are lifted, your travel plans will need a bit more preparation than they used to, especially if you’re driving.

Unless the European Commission agrees otherwise, motorists travelling from the UK into the EU will need to carry an international certificate of insurance known as a Green Card, to prove they have the minimum cover required to travel within other countries.

Without one, they risk having their vehicles seized and potentially even face prosecution.

Carol Hall, the ABI’s assistant director, head of European and international affairs, says: “Insurers have put considerable resources into preparing for the need to issue Green Cards for travel from 1 January to minimise any disruption to motorists.  

“While they are geared up to do so, it is without question that the best outcome for customers, road hauliers and insurers continues to be for the UK to be part of the Green Card Free Circulation Zone.”

The good news is that all UK driving insurance policies do provide the legal minimum cover required in the EU. If one is needed, the ABI recommends contacting your insurer at least one month before you’re due to travel. If you’re due to travel around the new year period, contact them as soon as possible.

Shopping from EU companies

We’ve become quite used to fairly frictionless shopping from across Europe and that should still be possible, even in the event of a no-deal end to the transition period.

However, once we end the transition period we will not be able to access the EU’s dispute resolution scheme, making it harder to resolve problems and settle complaints with overseas businesses.

Consumer champion Which? has reminded consumers that UK shoppers can still be protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

That means that if you make any purchases worth between £100 and £30,000 using a credit card then the card provider is jointly liable. That means if the item isn’t delivered and you don’t feel able to claim it back via the retailer, you can claim the money back from the credit card company.

Passports need updating sooner

The good news is that UK travellers won’t need a visa if they want to make short trips to EU countries.

However, that doesn’t mean that nothing will change. With or without a deal, you will need to have at least six months left on your passport to travel to most European countries.

According to Which?, you should also check how long your passport was issued for. If you renewed it before the expiry date of your previous passport then you may have been given extra months.  

However, any extra months that go over 10 years may not count when it comes to the six-month minimum you need. So it’s important to check more than just the expiry date.

If you are planning to stay for longer than 90 days, then you may need a visa.

Check your travel insurance

Unless some sort of agreement is reached then Brits will no longer be able to use state-provided medical care while travelling within Europe. Until the end of this month, you can carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) that lets you access healthcare on the same terms as people resident within the EU.

But that won’t be valid after 31 December. That makes it even more essential that you purchase comprehensive travel insurance before heading to the continent in 2021.

For several years now, it’s been possible to travel around the EU and use your mobile phone without incurring any additional roaming charges – you just get the same service at the same cost. That’s because of EU rules that mean networks have to offer roaming without extra costs, across its member countries.

Several operators have said they do not plan to bring back roaming charges but there have been suggestions on Twitter that at least one company may be planning to bring in charges for heavy overseas users – namely those whose EU usage abroad is greater than when they are at home over any four-month period.

The Brexit negotiations have been almost unbearably slow over the past few years and, as we enter the endgame, it can still seem like a never-ending story.

However, there are only so many days left until the end of the year, we are running out of space to defer decisions. That means that in the next few days things really could change fast, for all the areas outlined here and also for issues we have not even considered yet.

It may be tempting to switch off from Brexit and the wider economic crisis caused by Covid-19, and just kick back with a mince pie and a sherry. But if you believe you might be affected by any rule changes then it’s really sensible to keep one eye on the news – two weeks is a doubly long time in politics.

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