The state of Weights and Measures in the UK in 2023

In this article I am going to briefly describe the work Trading Standards do around weights and measures and also analyse some data from a recent report about the work done in 2021 to 2022.

Accurate weights and measures are crucial to all areas of society from trade to science to construction to medicine.

Unfortunately, the whole system of ensuring weights/measures are accurate is crumbling…. Can we save it?


Trading Standards Services (hereafter referred as TS) are responsible for ensuring:

– weighing and measuring equipment used for trade is accurate – e.g. the petrol pump is accurate.

– that any items sold by reference to weight/measure are actually what they say they are – e.g. the tin of beans really contains 200grams of beans.

In legislation, TS departments are known as ‘weights and measures authorities’ as that is what they were originally set up to do before taking on other trading legislation to enforce (e.g. pricing, product safety, letting agents etc).

The primary law in the UK governing weights and measures is the Weights and Measures Act 1985. The Act requires each local authority (council) area to have a Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures and to appoint as many Inspectors as necessary to efficiently discharge the functions of the Act. All TS are also required to provide an annual report of their activities to the Government (known as a Section 70 report). 

The importance of weights and measures

I think everyone would agree that if you pay for 50litres of something then you should get 50litres of something.

Billions of pounds worth of trade is conducted every year based on weighing and measuring equipment, so if the equipment is not accurate or if the process for delivering/filling is not done properly then someone will end up out of pocket.

The market very much works on the confidence of the weight/measure being correct but without checks being conducted how can we really be sure?

Any time I speak to someone about weights and measures they tell me they just assume that the local petrol pump or the scales at their supermarket are accurate. They just assume the equipment is checked. Little do they know how few checks are done.

Given the current ‘cost of living crisis’ – it is more important than ever that we get what we pay for.

How do Trading Standards check compliance with the law?

We can

  • test fuel pump meters
  • check meters when people have heating oil delivered from a tanker
  • check scales of any size to ensure they are accurate (e.g. retail shops, yards weighing vehicles, rubbish/scrap metal recycling, jewellers, in factories, in medical settings)
  • ensure that businesses packaging goods in a packaging plant are putting the right quantity of goods in the package as advertised on the label
  • check measuring equipment used for alcohol sales

All of the above ensures that the customer gets what they are paying for. It is worth saying that this protection is as much for businesses as it is consumers.

A new issue is ensuring electric vehicle chargers are delivering the right amount of energy. This is currently down to the Government department the Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) but it seems inevitable that TS will have some involvement in the future as ultimately OPSS do not have the boots on the ground to cover the UK or I suspect the skilled officers to do the work.

Is weighing/measuring equipment always accurate?

You shouldn’t assume that just because a fancy petrol pump or weighing scale is used that it is accurate. Assuming the trader is not using the machine fraudulently, the equipment can still be prone to error if not used properly or through natural wear and tear/usage.

We regularly find things wrong when we do inspections – for example last time we tested weighbridges we found 40% had significant errors. Weighbridges are very large scales used to weigh vehicles. You can imagine if you are weighing a lorry with 15 tonnes of goods on it and the scale is wrong then someone is going to be overpaying for what they are buying.

Here are some examples of things being found wrong:

Bags of coal found to be short weight

Food products found to be short weight in retail outlets

Short delivery of heating oil leads to prosecution

Short measure of petrol

I mentioned medicine at the start of this article. Think about the fact that scales in medical settings have to be accurate to ensure the appropriate medicine/treatment is prescribed. TS are responsible for ensuring scales used in medical settings are accurate.

In 2014 a project was done to check medical weighing equipment which found a 23% non-compliance rate. As it is not routine for TS to check medical weighing equipment, who is to say what the current failure rate is? As budgets are cut, it is highly likely that medical providers will cut back on checking their equipment.

If TS are not out there conducting checks then how can we ever find problems?

Unit pricing / shrinkflation / specified quantities

Trading Standards law is not about controlling price. It is about:

– ensuring the weight/measure of the product is accurate.

– the product is labelled accurately to state its content

– an all-inclusive price is given (e.g. inclusive tax)

– a unit price is given in certain settings – to enable comparison of product to another (e.g. one product is 5p per gram and another is 10p per gram)

The consumer can then compare products and make an informed decision on what to buy.

You may have heard of the term ‘shrinkflation’. This is when a product shrinks in size but the price remains the same. There are few laws requiring products to be sold in a specific quantity. I do wonder whether we should have more rules requiring certain products to be sold in specific (or specified) quantities.

For example, tins of beans can be bought in weights of 390g 395g 400g 410g 415g 420g. I bet most of us that look at tins of beans on the supermarket shelf assume the tins all contain the same quantity as they tend to be the same shape and size. If we simply required all tins of beans to be 400g (or variations such as 200g an 600g) then it would make life much easier for consumers to compare prices and it would make shrinkflation a bit more obvious.

The rules around unit pricing are also not brilliant – some items such as sauces can be sold by weight (grams) or volume (millilitres) – so unit price comparisons can be difficult if one is 78p per 100g and one is 68p per 100m/l.

The slide of weights and measures enforcement

Councils have faced severe cutbacks since 2010. That has led to many TS departments losing staff. Some TS departments only have 2 or 3 people which is simply not enough.

Weights and measures inspections are an easy thing to cut as members of the public don’t really know they are going on so if they are cut it is not obvious to anyone (until problems start occurring of course).

We don’t get a huge number of complaints about weights and measures compared to other things because people assume that checks are going on or that businesses would be doing things correctly.

Unfortunately, the statistics show there has been a significant decline in the amount of weights and measures work done over the last 10 years. This has a knock-on effect in terms of retaining the skills and knowledge needed to do the work. I know of many TS that want to start doing weights and measures work again after a long gap but can’t because they don’t have the staff.

Section 70 report analysis

The latest Section 70 report is available to view on the GOV.UK website:

What can we glean from the 2022 data?

For 2022 there were 188 local weights and measures authorities (I will refer to them as TS).

27 TS said they did 0 inspections or visits at all

6 TS had no qualified inspectors

36 TS have 1 or fewer qualified inspectors

135 TS have 1 or fewer full-time equivalents doing weights and measures work

692 piece of equipment had notices given – meaning they had a problem and the business was told to get it fixed

Petrol (and diesel) pumps – known as ‘liquid fuel measuring equipment’

7781 LFMI were tested (note this is individual pumps, not the bank of 3 or 4 pumps you usually or see or an entire forecourt).

However just 25 TS did 6806 of the entire 7781. Of that, 6 were from Scotland, 5 were from London and 4 were from Wales. This tells us that the majority of testing of pumps is limited to just a few TS departments covering a limited geographic areas.

25 TS in London tested no pumps (there are 32 TS in London so the majority of London had no testing)

117 TS tested 0 pumps at all – that is 62% of all TS

152 TS tested fewer than 32 pumps – that is 80% of all TS. I mention 32 pumps because around where I live that is a normal forecourt (i.e. one side has 4 pumps, and there are 8 sides). 80% of TS did not test the equivalent of one forecourt.

Scales less than 30kg – known as a Non-Automatic Weighing Instrument or NAWI.

These are the scales you see in most normal retail shops and supermarkets.

188 TS tested 3546 scales.

96 TS tested no scales at all – that is 51% of all TS

154 TS tested fewer than 30 NAWI – that is 82%. I mention 30 scales because that is what I would expect in a large supermarket. So, 82% of TS have not even tested the equivalent of one supermarket worth of scales in a year.

These figures are absolutely shocking.

Retail premise inspections

188 TS visited 3966 retail premises.

83 TS visited 0 retail premises – that is 44%

123 TS visited 10 or fewer retail premises – that is 65%.

A retail premise may include something like a butcher – to check the meat is being weighed accurately.

Packaging plants

188 TS visited 616 packaging plants

109 TS visited 0 packaging plants – that is 58%

Packaging plants are places which pack goods in bulk (e.g. pre-packaged beans) – they are the only place where you can confirm the laws around packing the correct quantity are being fellow. Items packed in plants will make up the majority of packaged goods sold in shops.

2012 v 2022

I have also been able to compare some data from an old 2012 section 70 report. This shows trends over a decade.

Full time equivalent staff in weights and measures work503207
Fuel pumps tested25,8487,787
All equipment tested154,33852,193
Premises inspected33,5246,997

It is pretty clear to see that

  • there are lots of areas where little to no work is being done on weights and measures
  • the trend is downwards and unlikely change without a significant shake up


It takes about 12-24 months to qualify as an Inspector of Weights and Measures but an officer can only be competent if they have someone knowledgeable to learn from and if they are actually doing the work regularly. Unfortunately, there is short supply of competent officers and many trainees are unable to gain experience in relevant work areas because either the work is not being done or there is no one competent to show them how to do it.

The table below shows how many new Inspectors have qualified over the past 20 years – the decline is obvious but more importantly the number qualifying is not enough to replace those that are leaving.

Chart showing decline in number of new qualified inspectors over past 20 years

The future…

Either we continue to let things slide to the point where we cannot recover (and arguably we are past that point). Many TS department no longer even have testing equipment. Most of the knowledge we have is from officers who may not be far off retirement. If we want to be able to train the next generation we need to act now.

You may have noticed that there are quite a lot of weights and measures authorities either with no qualified staff or doing no weights and measures work. This is akin to your local Police having no Police Officers or doing no investigations. The question is, is this what we want? Some within TS think a significant amount of our focus should be on weights and measures work. Others take the view that TS have moved on from weights and measures and we need to focus on areas where there may be known economic loss (e.g. complaints) or those areas with a health or safety element to them. I think most sensible people would prefer a balance but how can you achieve this without the staff and budget?

I have a separate article detailing all the areas of work TS can be involved in:

We need immediate Government intervention to require local authorities to take up more weights and measures work. The Department for Business and Trade is responsible via the Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) for policy on metrology. Unfortunately, it seems the OPSS view is that weights and measures doesn’t really matter – it always seems to be a footnote in their reports with no real detail or even acknowledgement about how bad metrology has fallen.

OPSS don’t appear to have the knowledge or skills to assist local authorities. Not long ago they removed lots of detailed technical guidance which was of use to regulators and the trade and have not replaced them. It is pretty clear they care more about product safety than weights and measures.

In light of this I am going to send this article to the current Minister for the Department of Business and Trade (Kemi Badenoch) and the Labour Shadow Secretary (Jonathan Reynolds) for comment. I will put any responses on this site.

Trading Standards with no inspectors

  • Denbighshire County Council
  • London Borough of Camden
  • London Borough of Lewisham
  • London Borough of Waltham Forest
  • North Ayrshire Council
  • Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council

Trading Standards that did no inspections or visits in 2021-2022

  • Bedford Borough Council
  • Blackpool Council
  • Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Brighton & Hove City Council
  • Central Bedfordshire Council
  • Conwy County Borough Council
  • Halton Borough Council
  • Leicester City Council
  • London Borough of Barnet
  • London Borough of Bexley
  • London Borough of Camden
  • London Borough of Ealing
  • London Borough of Enfield
  • London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham
  • London Borough of Islington
  • London Borough of Lambeth
  • Luton Borough Council
  • Nottinghamshire County Council
  • Peterborough City Council
  • Salford City Council
  • Sheffield City Council
  • South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council
  • St. Helens Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Trafford Council
  • Westminster City Council
  • Wigan Council
  • Wolverhampton City Council

The raw data for the Section 70 report with my figures is available as an attachment.

28 MAY 2023 UPDATE

You can see the Government responses here:

3 Replies to “The state of Weights and Measures in the UK in 2023”

  1. I feel quite disappointed that a large council like Sheffield have not carried out any inspections.
    there is no point in contacting them if that is the case.
    you have massive franchise businesses like McDonald’s Drakehouse, on a regular basis only half fill their 0.4L cups of coffee and when you question staff they make excuses like its the machine.
    what iscthe point in weights and measure’s trading standard’s if no obe does anything about it.

  2. Pingback: Cutbacks at Hampshire County Council Trading Standards – Trading Standards Blog

  3. Pingback: Weights and Measures – the Government response – Trading Standards Blog

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