The UK public, when encountering a commercial dispute, often think that Trading Standards will be a lifeline for their claim and make the process quicker and easier. But is this accurate and who are Trading Standards? In reality what can they do?
Trading Standards is a public body aimed at protecting consumers from unfair trading and to support businesses.
They seek to regulate a broad range of activities including:
- descriptions of goods, digital content and services
- terms and conditions
- age restricted products
- food standards and safety
- petrol and fireworks storage safety
- product safety
- weights and measures
What powers of investigation do they have?
Trading Standards derive powers under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Principally these include rights of entry, inspection and to secure or seize material.
By court ordered warrants, rights of entry can extend beyond business premises to places of residence. This includes a right to enter any premises by force if necessary.
For a routine inspection, a business will be provided with two days’ written notice, unless any exceptions are relied upon. These exceptions range from a suspicion that the law is being broken or that there is a risk that the notice will defeat the purpose of the visit.
What can Trading Standards do to stop businesses that break the law?
Trading Standards can bring prosecutions which lead to criminal sanctions, starting with the imposition of fines and leading in extreme cases to imprisonment.
There are a wide range of options available, although the nature of the breach is the determining factor. Where the business fails to or is unable to perform remedial actions, Trading Standards have formal enforcement options available to them and we provide an overview of some of these below.
The first step to enforcement is a formal warning. This might be for a minor offence, a first-time offence or where it is the public interest to do so.
In some cases, Trading Standards can issue a compliance notice requiring the business to take action or to stop doing something within a specified period, without the need of a Court Order.
Failure to comply results could result in further legal action within the court system.
Should a business disagree the use of a notice, they can apply to the Court or a relevant Tribunal to appeal against it.
Trading Standards have the ability to impose a direct fine on a business. One of the most common ones being imposed for the sale of alcohol to minors.
Appeal of a penalty or the level of a penalty (if unduly high) can be made to the Court or relevant Tribunal.
Many breaches of trading standards law are criminal offences and can be prosecuted in the Magistrates' Court or Crown Court. A successful prosecution may have a range of consequences but will only be taken where there is a likelihood of success and it is in the public interest to do so.
Trading Standards can apply to the Court for an Order requiring the business to comply with the law, change business procedures/practices, pay compensation to ‘victims’ etc. Failure to comply with a Court Order amounts to an offence of contempt of court which carried with it financial penalties and two year’s imprisonment.
Can they close businesses down?
The simple answer is no. Trading Standards have no direct powers to order a business to stop trading. They can apply to the courts for orders, which may restrict a business’s activities.
Can Trading Standards help you as an individual?
The simple answer is again no and a common misconception. Trading Standards do no not pursue or participate in civil disputes, and they cannot obtain specific redress for an individual. Whilst they can provide limited advice to consumers who may want to make a claim, they cannot facilitate this themselves. Only in the event of a prosecution or an application for an enforcement, can they ask for compensation to be paid and this avenue is a lengthy, and uncertain process.
In the unfortunate event that you are involved in a dispute with a business or an individual, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our Dispute Resolution Team who are on hand to facilitate a resolution on the best possible terms.
Please note that this information is for guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking full legal advice on specific facts and circumstances.