Every Trading Standards department will be set up slightly differently depending on how the local authority (council) has decided to set it up – for example some are merged with Environmental Health or Planning departments.
Below I have listed the main areas of work that Trading Standards are involved in – I have split them into two groups – statutory functions (usually laws we supposed to enforce) and voluntary functions (extras we provide for the benefit of the public).
Weights and Measures – this is ensuring that when you buy something by the weight or measure you get what you are paying for. This could include checking scales in shops or petrol pumps. Plus don’t forget all the factories out there that use scales to weigh products – they all need to be accurate.
Food Standards – there are many laws that govern what can go into food and how foodstuffs must be labelled. Trading Standards are responsible for ensuring compliance in this area.
Environmental Health Officers deal with food safety and hygiene issues. So they would be interested if the food contained bacteria that would harm health or filthy kitchens.
Pricing – ensuring that retailers are displaying prices correctly and not misleading consumers about how they arrived at those prices (i.e. falsely claiming special offers).
Fair Trading – this is a very wide area that includes dealing with fraudulent/deceptive trading practices and misleading advertising.
Doorstep Crime – within the scope of Fair Trading but many departments treat this as a separate area. This is concerned with rogue traders who con householders into paying large amounts of money for poor or unnecessary work (usually household maintenance or repairs). Often the area of Trading Standards work where the victim suffers the biggest financial losses.
Hallmarking – this area of law concerns the assaying, hallmarking and describing articles made of, or containing precious metals (gold, silver, platinum and palladium).
Product Safety – all goods sold in the UK must be safe and some products have specific rules (e.g. toys). This is an area of work where people can be seriously injured or die if Trading Standards are not checking for compliance.
Consumer Credit – the consumer credit world is vast and complex. Trading Standards used to play a significant role in compliance but the majority of the work is now done by the Financial Conduct Authority. Trading Standards can still deal with people who lend money without authorisation.
Licensing – the licensing of animal movement, performing animals, explosives/fireworks, poisons and petroleum. As mentioned above your local council may have a specific licensing department that will do other areas such as taxis.
Estate Agency – Assisting in the enforcement of the Estate Agents Act. Also ensuring compliance with Energy Performance Certificates and ensuring estate agents are members of a redress scheme.
Intellectual Property – dealing with counterfeits and pirated goods. A really big problem area and one which often involves organised crime gangs. It’s not all about helping out large corporations – we often provide advice to, and assist small businesses about protecting their intellectual property.
Under Age Sales – making sure the shops are not selling age restricted products to children (e.g. alcohol, knives, aerosols, fireworks and videos).
Unfair Contract Terms – enforcement of unfair contract terms legislation. The Competition and Markets Authority is the national regulator for this area.
Animal Health and Welfare – visiting farms, abattoirs, and transit points to check that the health of livestock is maintained. Movement control records are kept so that animals can be quickly traced in the event of an outbreak of serious notifiable disease, such as foot and mouth.
Agriculture – ensuing compliance with the rules surround animal feed and fertilisers.
Business Advice – providing businesses with advice on how to comply with all the areas of law listed above.
Consumer Advice – providing consumers with advice on their rights and on how to resolve an issue they are having with a business.
The Citizens Advice consumer service provides free advice to all consumers. Many TS departments do not provide advice directly to consumers.
No Cold Calling Zones – these are roads or areas where residents have agreed to (usually) to put a sticker in their door to dissuade cold callers from knocking on their doors. They are supposed to empower residents to quickly and easily say ‘no’ to a cold caller.
Approved Trader Schemes – this is where Trading Standards will vet local businesses so they can then recommend them to consumers. The largest scheme is Buy With Confidence.
Consumer Education – being proactive about educating consumers about their rights. This can be done by visiting youngsters in their schools or visiting the elderly at their local neighbourhood watch meetings and so on. Many departments are also using social media to get their message out.
Having written out all of the above I have surprised myself at the breadth of work we have responsibility for. That is without delving deeper into each individual area. I would estimate there are probably over a thousand pieces of legislation governing the areas of work I have listed.
Some Trading Standards Departments may have less than 5 staff delivering all of those functions. How are they supposed to do a good job of it?