Citizens Advice Consumer Service

If you are trying to contact Trading Standards you will most likely have to contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service who will act as the first point of contact. This often confuses members of the public who think of Citizens Advice as a charity and have no idea what they have to do with Trading Standards.

To put it in very simple terms, Citizens Advice has an agreement with all Trading Standards departments to act as the first point of contact with the public. This involves logging complaints and providing consumers with basic advice on our behalf. In most cases Citizens Advice can provide enough assistance to satisfy the consumer and the matter is closed. The information is then passed onto Trading Standards for further action where relevant.

Summary

Citizens Advice will provide advice to help you with your own problem. If the issue is complex and your local Trading Standards offers additional advice they can pass the information on and your local Trading Standards can provide further help. Many Trading Standards do not offer any additional help and rely totally of Citizens Advice to provide all of their advice.

Where an issue is identified as possibly being a breach of the law (i.e. a criminal offence) – Citizens Advice will pass the information on to Trading Standards to look into. It is up to the Trading Standards whether they actually do anything – all Citizens Advice can do is flag the issue as a possible breach of the law.

Every call is logged on a national database for Trading Standards to look at, so even if you do not have any direct contact with trading Standards the details of your complaint will help us identify which businesses are a cause for concern. 

The Background

In the past if you needed help with a consumer issue you could contact your local Trading Standards department directly. Unfortunately it was something of a postcode lottery as different departments had different levels of service.

In 2004 the Department of Trade and Industry (now the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) set up Consumer Direct. In 2006 the running of the service was taken over by the Office of Fair Trading. In 2012 the service was transferred to Citizens Advice and became the Citizens Advice Consumer Service.

The idea behind Consumer Direct / Citizens Advice Consumer Service is that everyone in Great Britain can access the same service regardless of where they live. Every issue is logged on a national database which all Trading Standards can access.

The Citizens Advice Consumer Service will provide basic advice on consumer issues and log complaints against businesses. If the issue is complex then they can refer the complaint to the consumers local Trading Standards for further help – but only if the Trading Standards offers that extra assistance. In my area for example, we generally only offer further assistance to those who are vulnerable in some way.

One of the side effects of the creation of Consumer Direct and now the Citizens Advice Consumer Service is that many Trading Standards departments are getting rid of the employees that use to provide advice. With the recent cuts to finances some Trading Standards departments are now totally withdrawing all forms of consumer advice/assistance. If you can’t resolve the issue with the advice given by the Citizens Advice Consumer Service then you may be stuffed. Unfortunately the days of having a Trading Standards Officers contact a business and/or write letters on your behalf are becoming a thing of the past in many areas.

The vast majority of Trading Standards departments will not take complaints directly from the public. The simple reason is that we do not have the staff to do so anymore. Therefore if you are trying to contact your local Trading Standards you may find you are redirected to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service.

From a Trading Standards point of view the changes were handy because we now have a national database of complaints and I have to say I do not envy the job of being a Consumer Service advisor and having to answer all sorts of complex questions under pressure on the phone.

If you make a complaint to Trading Standards via the Consumer Service you may never hear back from anyone – that does not mean no action has been taken with your complaint. The data from the database is vital in identifying issues to deal with and I often contact people who have complained to the Consumer Service for more information weeks after they have called. In many cases though the notes on the Consumer Service are enough to raise an issue with a business and I do not need to go back to the original complainant.

The Citizens Advice Consumer Service is specifically concerned with advising on consumer issues and is somewhat separate from the traditional Citizens Advice Bureaux which provide assistance with a wider range of issues. The reason Consumer Direct was shut down was twofold. Firstly to save money and secondly to reduce the number of bodies/brands involved in assisting consumers.

Finally it is worth pointing out what the Citizens Advice Consumer Service will not do:

  1. They are not an enforcement authority. If they feel that a crime has been committed they will pass the details on to the relevant body to deal with.
  • They will not contact businesses on your behalf – they will provide you with basic advice but after that you are on your own (unless you have a complex problem that your local Trading Standards can help with).

To contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service you can visit their website for more info:

http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer_service

You can also visit my post which provides further info on how to make a complaint.

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