Everyday Legal gives you the low-down on Trading Standards – how they can help consumers, what kind of problems they help with and how you’d go about getting help from the. Read our handy guide to find out all you need to know about Trading Standards.
Please Note: the information in this article applies to England.
If you think a trader has acted unfairly or broken the law you may want to seek help – that’s where Trading Standards may be able to assist. Trading Standards are responsible for protecting consumers and the community from rogue traders. They can take action against rogue traders including taking legal action, advising traders on their legal obligations and advising and helping customers. Each local authority area has its own Trading Standards department.
There are a range of circumstances where Trading Standards may be able to help:
- When you’ve been sold fake or counterfeit goods
- When the trader has made false claims about goods or services (and these have been shown to be false)
- When a customer has bought something because of misleading information or because they were subject to aggressive selling
Trading Standards can also give information about local traders and advice about consumer problems. It’s important to note however that the help Trading Standards can give varies from locality to locality and not all offices offer the same services.
Trading Standards can help in a number of ways – they can:
- Provide information about local traders
- Advise on how to take action against the trader
- Mediate between you and the trader to attempt to resolve the problem
- Advise on the action to take if a trader doesn’t have a proper credit licence
- Give an opinion on whether goods are of a satisfactory quality
- Put consumers in contact with local experts or testers
The action that Trading Standards can take against a trader depends on what the trader has done and on local policy. They may take formal or informal action or a combination of both. Not every case will result in prosecution.
Informal action can include offering:
to traders who have broken the law with the aim of making sure they don’t do it again.
Formal action can involve Trading Standards using their legal powers to take action against the trader including:
- Issuing cautions
- Prosecution in the criminal court
- Entering premises and seizing goods / documents
- Applying for injunctions
- Issuing statutory notices
To report a problem to Trading Standards:
- Contact the Citizens Advice consumer service – they will assess your problem and if appropriate will make a referral to Trading Standards (also some Trading Standards departments offer a drop-in service)
- Collect and provide full details of your problem – what it is, information about the trader, paperwork (eg: bills, quotes, contracts) etc
- Notes of any contacts to date with the trader including the dates when these occurred
- Any evidence eg: witnesses, photos or video evidence
If Trading Standards take on a case they may then pass on information to other bodies who can take action against the trader eg: the Competition and Markets Authority, the police, the courts. If there is a prosecution you may have to go to court to give evidence.
Trading Standards can also choose to take no action or to give the trader a warning.
If a trader is found guilty then compensation can be awarded up to £5,000 in cases where money has been lost but even if a trader is successfully prosecuted the court doesn’t have to award compensation. It is not usually possible to claim for distress or additional losses.
If Trading Standards can’t help you there are other options:
- Complain directly to the trader
- If the trader is a member of a Trade Association contact them
- Contact and go through an Ombudsman
- Take the trader to court
- Seek help from Citizens Advice