7 major changes coming to UK laws in 2021

There are many uncertainties as to what will fall upon us in 2021 – hopefully the return to normal – but one thing is certain: a whole lot of new laws are coming.

Many of the UK laws coming into effect from January onwards are related to Brexit, with the transition period ending on December 31.

New rules will apply on things from travelling to trade, and it might be difficult to keep up with them while navigating the pandemic.

We gathered a list of seven changes that will directly – or indirectly affect you in 2021:

1. The new points-based immigration system

The UK’s freedom of movement within the EU will end along with the transition period on December 31.

People from EU membership countries lose the right to live and work in Britain, and the same goes for Britons that want to do so in the EU.

In the UK, a new points-based immigration system is coming into force instead.

A complicated set of rules explains how applicants can achieve the 70 points needed to gain entry.

Non-UK workers must have secured a job that has a skill level of ‘RQF3’ or above (equivalent to A level), be able to speak English, and have a salary that is £25,600 or the going rate for the job, whichever is higher. If their salary is less than that but it meets the minimum threshold of £20,480, workers can rack up “tradeable points” to reach 70.

Engineers, doctors, veterinarians and others from a list of “shortage occupations” will be given extra points, for example.

EU citizens or people from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, who are living and working in the UK will need to apply to continue to do so. People from Ireland are exempt from this.

2. Covid restrictions to UK travellers entering the EU

Brits have already been banned from entering dozens of countries due to fears they will bring the new Covid-19 variant to their shores.

Brexit will only add an extra hurdle to travellers from the UK entering the EU, as freedom of movement ends on New Year’s Day.

The EU has called on EU countries to lift travel bans imposed against the UK amid fears of a new Covid strain, but as each member is free to set its own rules on border controls it may continue with its own policies.

The same goes for a safe list of countries where coronavirus cases are low, from where non-essential travel is permitted by the EU: some member states do not even allow in travellers from countries on the safe list.

3. End to free mobile roaming for Brits in Europe

You might need to double-check with your phone provider before you call your family to ask if it’s still raining in Britain while you enjoy the sunshine on your holidays.

From January 1, 2021, the guarantee of free mobile roaming for Brits visiting the EU end s. This means that mobile companies are free to hit you with roaming charges, although it doesn’t necessarily mean they will do so.

Any charges would depend on agreements between UK operators and their counterparts in EU countries.

The four main UK operators, Three, Vodafone, EE and O2, said they had no plans to start charging their customers.

But this can change, so you should check with your phone provider to see if you will be affected.

At least, a new law will protect you from racking up a huge bill without you knowing. Specifically:

  • Once you reach £45 of mobile data, you will be asked if you want to spend more.
  • You will be informed when they have reached 80% and 100% of their data allowance
  • If you are in Northern Ireland and your phone accidentally locks onto the mobile signal coming from the Republic of Ireland, your provider should take “reasonable steps” to avoid you being charged.

4. Brits travelling to the EU might need a visa

From New Year’s Day, you must have at least six months left on your passport, which needs to be less than 10 years old, in order to travel to most EU countries. This does not apply to travel to Ireland.

If you’re on a holiday of under 90 days to the EU you will not need a visa to travel, but you might need it for trips longer than that and for work, study or business travel.

All new passports issued from mid-2021 turning blue – but burgundy passports will still be valid until they’re replaced.

5. The European Health Insurance Card is no longer valid

The free little EHIC card that entitled to state-provided medical treatment in EU countries in the event of illness or accident will not be valid anymore.

Instead, you should make sure you get travel insurance and check if it covers your needs if you have a pre-existing medical condition.

If you are one of the following, though, you are exempt, and should get a new UK-issued EHIC card from January:

  • receiving a UK State Pension or some other ‘exportable benefits’ and living in the EU before the end of 2020
  • a ‘frontier worker’ (someone who works in one state and lives in another) before the end of 2020, for as long as you continue to be a frontier worker in the host state
  • an EU national living in the UK before the end of 2020
  • a dependant of one of the above

If you are a British student already studying in an EU country, you need to apply for a new EHIC, which will only be valid in the country you’re studying in until the end of your course.

For anyone happening to be in the EU over the Christmas and New Year period, their EHIC will still be valid until they leave that country to either return to the UK or visit another EU country.

6. Copyright law changes after almost two decades

In a bid to protect online creators, changes to copyright law also come into place in the new year.

The law aims to give artists, musicians and publishers a better chance of being paid when their work appears online, without causing a significant impact on the biggest internet companies such as Google and YouTube. 

The bigger platforms will now be legally responsible for the user-generated material they host in the EU and will have to obtain licences from rights-holders to show their material.

Content uploaded for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche, including memes and GIFs will be exempt from this.

7. Trade becomes more complicated

In England, Wales and Scotland, importers and exporters will need to make customs declarations for EU goods.

VAT and customs duty will apply to all imports, and some products, including plants, live animals and some foods, will need special licences and certificates, or to be labelled in specific ways.

However, to speed things up, import declarations can be delayed for up to 6 months in some cases.

The rules for Northern Ireland are different, as the country will continue to follow many of the EU’s rules.

No inspections will take place on lorries driving across the border to the Republic of Ireland, but new checks will be needed on certain goods arriving into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

An agreement has also been reached to eliminate tariffs for most trade between Great Britain (England, Wales, Scotland) and Northern Ireland.

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