Devon and Somerset Trading Standards: Frequently Asked Questions
Protecting Devon and Somerset’s consumers and businesses to maintain a fair trading environment where local businesses and consumers can thrive.
What Is Trading Standards?
Business only works effectively when everyone is on a level playing field and consumers are protected to ensure they get a fair deal. Devon and Somerset Trading Standards oversees this across the two counties, ensuring businesses don’t try to illegally get an unfair advantage over their competitors or customers, that products and practices are safe and honest, and that consumers can have confidence in the marketplace.
We also have responsibilities concerning the health and welfare of livestock, such as ensuring animals are treated well at markets or during transport, and that plans are in place to prevent and contain disease outbreaks.
How does Trading Standards operate?
We provide wide ranging advice to businesses on everything from ensuring food is correctly labelled to the rules surrounding livestock movements. The service inspects various types of businesses to ensure they’re trading fairly, based on risk ratings and intelligence gathered from a variety of sources. We’re also ready to respond rapidly to emerging situations, such as rogue traders and doorstep crime. If we find a problem, there are various options open for us to take, such as offering advice and a timescale for a trader to come into compliance with the law, confiscating illegal goods, or launching criminal proceedings.
Why Devon and Somerset? Didn’t each county used to have its own Trading Standards service?
Historically Devon and Somerset did indeed have separate trading standards services. However, on 1st May 2013 trading standards officers in Devon and Somerset came together to form a new service, the Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service. The new service is hosted by Devon County Council and will achieve significant savings without significantly affecting front-line services across the two counties. The larger service will be better placed to maintain the level of specialist knowledge and expertise necessary to meet the demands of modern day businesses and consumers.
What areas of the law does Trading Standards cover?
Devon and Somerset Trading Standards’ remit includes:
- Goods and services such as home improvements, and how they are sold; the descriptions applied to properties being offered for sale
- Rogue traders, misleading advertisements including credit adverts and unlicensed trading
- Descriptions applied to precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum
- Holiday descriptions and timeshare companies
- Price indications including reductions, sales promotions and price comparisons
- The labelling and composition of cosmetics, textiles and furnishings
- Sales of misdescribed or unroadworthy vehicles and traders pretending to sell vehicles as private individuals
- Sale of food past its use by date, food composition and general food labelling
- The safety of toys and other household goods
- Illegal sales of alcohol, cigarettes, fireworks, knives and other age restricted products to young people
- Weights and measures including sales in markets, pubs and any other establishment selling goods by measure
- Animal health & welfare, and animal disease containment
You can find a full list of the diverse legislation we’re responsible for here (pdf), which covers everything from making sure the pint you get in a pub really is a pint, to controlling who’s allowed to store and sell fireworks.
So are you just about prosecuting people for minor offences?
No, if you look at our prosecutions page, you’ll see that only a small number of the businesses we deal with end up in court. We understand that the legislation surrounding businesses and consumers can be complex, and also that the vast majority of traders wish to conduct business fairly and within the law. Although we have to respond to each situation individually, we know that in most cases advice and guidance represent the best approach; especially if the business was unaware they were breaching the law.
We are happy to give traders advice to help them ensure they comply with legislation, and if a problem is found, to tell them how to fix it and to give them time to do so. It is only in particularly serious cases, or if a trader has refused to sort out an issue, that we will take someone to court.
I’m a business and I’m worried I may be breaking the law. What should I do?
Get in touch with us! We have a range of advice leaflets and info in our business section and we’re also happy to talk to businesses about what they need to do to comply with legislation. Don’t be afraid of us, as if your current set-up isn’t quite right and you want to sort things out, it’s highly unlikely we would try to prosecute or fine you. We’re far more likely to give you the advice you need and the time to sort it out. It’s much better to talk to us and get it right than cross your fingers and hope you don’t get into trouble later – you’re far more likely to end up in court if you just try to get away with it. You can find out how to contact us here.
I’m a consumer with a problem, can you help me?
If you have a problem with a trader, goods or service, please contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506 or 0208 1850710, or via this online form. They will be able to offer advice and support, as well as giving you guidance on what you can do next. The Citizens Advice Consumer Service will pass your complaint on to us. We will only contact you further ourselves should we require further information from you.
If it is a civil matter (see our guide to the difference between civil and criminal law), the onus will be on you to take further action, such as writing a letter of complaint or taking a trader to the small claims court. We do not do this on your behalf.
How can I check what my rights as a consumer are?
Check out our Understanding Your Rights section, which has loads of info about what you are and aren’t entitled to as a consumer (sometimes the customer isn’t right, but you can check if you are here). There are also links to other great resources around the web that can help you.
Can’t you just force a trader to give me my money back?
No, unfortunately we can’t. If we believe a trader is setting out to deliberately deceive customers or is otherwise criminally breaking the law (rather than it being a civil dispute between customer and trader), we may step in to ensure they comply with all relevant legislation. However, this doesn’t usually include getting financial compensation for individual customers (although if a trader is habitually ignoring consumers rights, we can force them into an undertaking to provide better service).
By knowing your rights, as well as following advice from the Citizens Advice Consumer Service and official online sources, you should be able to resolve most disputes yourself (traders often back down when shown their legal responsibilities by a consumer who is well-informed). However if that doesn’t work and you still feel you’re entitled to your money back or other redress, you may need to go to court. This may not be as expensive and daunting as you may think, and in the small claims court (which deals with disputes up to £10,000) you may not even need a lawyer.
Certain professions also have ombudsmen schemes that mediate disputes and have powers to act for consumers (some can even require a trader to compensate you if they find in your favour). You can find out more about which professions and trade associations are involved in such schemes by clicking here.
How do I know if a trader/offer/business proposition is legitimate?
There’s no absolutely failsafe way, but most of the time it’s best to use your common sense. Has the company been trading for a long time? Do you know others who’ve used the trader and were satisfied? If they say they’re a member of a trade organisation or that they’re legally qualified to do something, have you checked that they really are? Are they offering something that sounds too good to be true (if so, it probably is)? Have you checked that the price offered is comparable to other traders (if it’s either much higher or much lower, it should be a red flag)? Did they just turn up at your door and tell you that what they’re offering is only available if you sign up right away and/or that you can’t cancel it?
If you want an extra measure of confidence, Devon & Somerset Trading Standards operates the ‘Buy With Confidence’ approved traders scheme. Members have been vetted by trading standards to check that they operate fairly. You can find out more about the scheme and find members here.
Isn’t Trading Standards just about bureaucracy?
The vast majority of the laws Trading Standards enforces have a very good reason to be there, even if it’s not always obvious. Some legislation may seem pointless when everything is going well, but needs to be there as a safety net in case things go wrong (just as an MOT may seem like an unnecessary expense when your car is running well, but becomes invaluable if a major problem is found before it causes a crash). Other laws may appear to put a needless burden on business, but are designed to ensure everyone trades fairly and that there are rules in place to stop rogue operatives who hurt both consumers and the business of legitimate companies.
Illegal trading costs legitimate businesses hundreds of millions of pounds a year, which Trading Standards sets out to stop. Monitoring the quality and safety of goods doesn’t just protect consumers, but also ensures they have confidence to purchase from local suppliers. Controlling animal movement helps stop the spread of disease, while spot checks on markets, farms and abattoirs can prevent both unnecessary animal suffering and help ensure only safe products get into the human food chain.
None of what we do is regulation for regulation’s sake. Instead we help ensure that consumers are safe and can have confidence in traders, while businesses don’t lose money by either having to compete against unfair rivals or by putting unsafe products onto the market (and potentially getting sued or criminally prosecuted).
How can I keep up with the latest news and info from Devon and Somerset Trading Standards?
tsconnect is the part of the service that there’s to reach out to you. You can sign up for the tsconnect newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, which will keep you up to date with the latest developments.
Do It Online:
New Business Enquiry
Petrol, LPG & Diesel Licensing
Find Public Weighbridges
Animal Movement Forms
Livestock Haulier Forms & Information
Apply To The Buy With Confidence scheme