This post was originally posted in August 2013. The requirement to give two days notice is now in force. As I expected it means a lot of extra paperwork and a reduction in inspections.
Some coverage in the media today about Government plans to change the powers Trading Standards Officers have to carry out unannounced inspections – we will soon have to give two days notice so that the business can prepare for the visit.
When the Government came into power they wanted ’to reduce the burdens on businesses’ – the idea is that if businesses know Trading Standards are coming they can plan for the meeting rather than have Trading Standards turn up unannounced and be a nuisance. Unfortunately this is going to mean there is now a burden on Trading Standards to spend time contacting businesses before a visit is made in order to arrange an appointment. And of course there is the obvious risk of a business preparing for the visit by removing or hiding anything that may not be legal.
I can see the Governments reasoning but (perhaps obviously) I don’t agree – I don’t think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. There are occasions when it would be handy to speak to a certain person during a visit (such as the owner) but if we need to we can always come back at a later date. If we are visiting a business where we know we will have to speak to a certain person we are likely to make an appointment anyway.
Oddly these new powers will only apply to some of the laws Trading Standards enforce. We enforce laws that cover many different subjects. This law is being pushed forward by the Government department BIS which covers things like pricing and weights and measures – but they don’t cover things like food labelling which is handled by the Government department DEFRA.
So under these new powers if I want to carry out a visit to a supermarket to check their pricing I will have to give two days notice. Whereas if I want to go in and check if their burgers are labelled properly I can go in straight away because the new restrictions do not apply to the enforcement of food law. Joined up thinking by the Government eh?
These new restrictions are currently being considered by Parliament (they are part of the Consumer Bill of Rights). Hopefully they will be binned rather than becoming law.
I fear that this new restriction will just be another reason why Trading Standards departments will do fewer inspections – it will just end up causing too much work and hassle trying to give the two days notice properly. If I want to check compliance with something I might just visit 4 or 5 places as and when time allows. Under the new system I will have to plan out my journey in advance and ring ahead to each place and hope they can all accommodate me on the same date and fit in with my schedule.
The Independent article: