Legal Article - Business Law

Trading Standards and the Motor Trade

Most consumer protection legislation is enforced by the Trading Standards department of local authorities. The Office of Fair Trading is the central government body co-ordinating enforcement and acting as registrar for consumer credit licensing.

Local Trading Standards authorities have fully functioning teams to ensure trading standards legislation is being adhered to at all times. The teams specialise in different key areas of legislation and work on behalf of the department to regulate various industries.
Trading Standards officers are expertly trained in trading standards law and are able to identify any infringements and can recommend prosecution.  The officers lead the investigatory teams which consist of Enforcement Officers.

These officers, although not as highly trained, tend to be qualified in one specific are of Trading Standards law although they have the same authority as that of a Trading Standards officer.

Both forms of officers are able to visit your premises and identify any breaches of the law. It is essential to maintain a healthy respect for Trading Standards law and those who work to enforce it as a breach of this can result in legal prosecution.

Advertising is an important aspect of running and maintaining a successful business. However, there are areas of advertising to be mindful of. A consumer advisor primarily works with consumers regarding problems relating to media advertising.

The advisor can identify any infringements or wrong doings and notify the trading standards officers who will investigate further. Again, if any breaches have been found you may face prosecution.


Office of Fair Trading: Who Are They?

Office of Fair Trading: Who Are They?

The Office of Fair Trading acts as “big brother”. All prosecutions and sometimes complaints are registered on the Office of Fair Trading register, which is linked to a Company’s Consumer Credit Licence.

Any prosecution may then reflect on a person’s suitability to hold a Consumer Credit Licence and the Office of Fair Trading may issue a “Minded To Revoke Notice” indicating that they are thinking about removing a person’s licence and inviting them to make representations to say why that should not happen.

If you receive any such communication you should immediately Contact Lawgistics.

In addition to this role, the Office of Fair Trading also builds up dossiers on problematic traders and issues them with written notice of a Part III Assurance under the Fair Trading Act.

New legislation in the form of a “Stop Now” Order will speed this process.

Such an Assurance is very serious and any further evidence of malpractice or breach will render the Directors of the Company in contempt of court.

What Should I do if the Trading Standards Officer Calls?

What Should I do if the Trading Standards Officer Calls?

It is important that all staff are aware and are instructed to deal with Trading Standards/Enforcement Officers in a uniform way. The following approach is to be recommended:

i. Invite the Officer to a suitable private office being polite and courteous.

ii. Contact the nominated Manager/Director and let the officer know what is happening. An offer of tea/coffee is appropriate but do not enter into discussion about the business.

iii. The Manager/Director should introduce themselves and request to see the identity of the officer and ask the purpose of the visit.

iv. If the officer indicates the visit is in connection with an alleged offence then details should be taken of the problem.

A Director or Proprietor would be in a position to speak on behalf of the business, but if the officer is seeking to have an interview it would be acceptable to note the officers visit purpose, but indicate a request to seek professional advice before continuing further.

v. The assistance of Lawgistics is advised at that point.

vi. If the officer examines or seizes documents make a note of the relevant documents and why they are examined/seized. Request the opportunity to copy any documents seized.

vii. If you receive a letter from a Trading Standards Department suggesting an offence may have been committed Contact Lawgistics straight away to discuss further action.

Remember ONLY staff authorised to do so can speak on behalf of the Company or Partnership.

Trading Standards: What Do they Do?

Trading Standards: What Do they Do?

The local Trading Standards Authority has the responsibility, within their area, of enforcing the various Consumer and Trading Standards Legislation.

They are responsible for all sectors of trade but often set up specific divisions to look at and enforce the motor vehicle sector, this being the sector that gives them many problem areas.

Enforcement is carried out by several tried and well tested methods.

(i) Monitoring advertisements

This is an easy and effective way of enforcement as from their desk they can vet an advertisement for Trading Standards and Consumer Credit Compliance. Any irregularity can be prosecuted without even a visit to the premises.

In particular they are looking to ensure that the advertisement complies with the Consumer Credit Regulations which includes all the necessary examples and statutory statements.

The trade name used is the same one as on your Licence, the price advertised is the price at which the goods can be purchased, descriptions used correspond with the vehicles offered for sale, any offers or discounts are real and represent genuine savings, and perhaps that the advertisement makes it clear it is a trade advertisement.
In addition to the above, which only reflects a small selection of what may be considered, the officer will collate information for any future visit or inspection.

(ii) Routine Inspections

All Trade premises are classified and placed on a list for a routine visit by a Trading Standards or Enforcement Officer.

At such a visit it is likely that enquiries will be made as to the accuracy of the descriptions given by the advertisement, point of sale literature, the sales person or in writing.

It is essential that all information given, in writing or orally, should be clear, accurate and capable of being supported.

(iii) Customer Complaints

All complaints from members of the public are monitored and any such complaint, having a Trading Standards involvement, are investigated.

Please be aware that when an officer investigates such a matter the whole scenario has already arisen, the facts are there and offence if any has already happened.

They are now ONLY looking to see who is liable, whether they have a defence, and if they should assist in the decision making process.

You should be careful that what you say is what you mean to say. You would be well advised to seek legal advice BEFORE making any statement, casual or formal.

(iv) Monitoring of Auctions

It is common practice for the Trading Standards Officers to monitor vehicles put through auctions. This is generally carried out by Enforcement Officers noting vehicle particulars and mileage of vehicles put into auction.

Some months later checks are made through the DVLA to find out who now owns the vehicle. The current keeper is contacted and asked where they bought the vehicle from, the mileage and whether or not a disclaimer was used.
If the current mileage is wrong and no Mileage Disclaimer was used then they may immediately prosecute the supplying dealer.

(v) Mystery Shops/Test Purchases

Always remember a Trading Standards Officer or Enforcement Officer could visit your site as a potential purchaser. Many dealers have a “nose” for enforcement staff but you can’t rely on it.

Even if you can it is imperative your staff adhere to company policy in regard to their verbal responses to questions put by the “customer”.

It is perfectly legal for Trading Standards to ask critical questions, which may lead to the sales staff incriminating the company.

The Powers of a Trading Standards Officer

The Powers of a Trading Standards Officer

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 gives Trading Standards and Enforcement Officers very wide and far reaching powers of entry and inspection.

For any specific problem please refer to Lawgistics.

An officer may at all reasonable times:

a) Enter the premises, provided it is not a private house, to see if an offence has been committed

b) If they think an offence has been committed then they may require the production of any books or documents and take a copy in order to establish whether or not an offence has been committed.

c) If they have reason to believe any documents may be required as evidence they can seize and detain them. They CANNOT seize books.

In real terms this means that an officer can enter your motor trade premises and ask the person at the time in charge of the premises to produce the books and documents. It is not sufficient to say that the owner is out or away.

It is the responsibility of the person actually there to produce the books or documents.

If in doubt then Contact Lawgistics immediately.

It should be a standing instruction that anyone claiming to be a Trading Standards Officer should be asked to produce their credentials, unless they are known to them. If they fail to produce them for whatever reason then they cannot enforce their powers.

If any person wilfully obstructs an officer, or wilfully fails to comply with any requirement, or fails to give any reasonable assistance or information reasonably required then an offence of obstruction will have been committed for which they may be charged.

 


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