Legal Article - Business Law

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.

Published: 21 Mar 2011

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