Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service aims to be known as the leading trading standards service in the UK. We strive to be recognised for innovation, excellent customer service and as a great place to work.
This report outlines some of the work we have undertaken over the past year that has contributed towards these aims and our objectives, which are:
- Supporting economic growth by ensuring a fair, responsible and competitive trading environment.
- Ensuring consumers, especially the more vulnerable, are protected and more confident and that communities are safer, better informed and more fully engaged in the work of the Service.
- Helping people live healthier lives by preventing harm, promoting individual health, and supporting the creation of a healthier environment.
With the impact of the pandemic this work has never been more important – to assist local businesses to recover and grow and to protect consumers at a time when they are particularly vulnerable.
With the inclusion of Plymouth Trading Standards in April 2021, the Joint Service has been able to build on the benefits of a large, resilient service whilst continuing to identify opportunities for making the service more efficient and effective.
We have 0.03 Trading Standards Officers per 1,000 population and 0.52 Trading Standards Officers per 1,000 businesses.
This table shows our staffing trends for the past five years. Note: Increase of staff in 2021 due to the expansion of the joint trading standards service to include Plymouth Council.
|Year||Number of full-time equivalent staff||Number of staff per 1,000 population||Number of staff per 1,000 businesses|
The Service operates from six offices, which are located in Barnstaple, Exeter, Kingsteignton, Plymouth, Torquay and Wellington.
A year in numbers
- Complaints received and assessed: 16,666
- Complaints dealt with: 2,771
- Business advice requests answered: 591
- Other agency requests answered: 532
- Inspections completed: 861
- Alternative enforcement actions: 1,323
- Licences issued: 183
Supporting the local economy
Rural business surveillance and support
Ensuring confidence and safety in the farm-to-fork chain, with a focus on maximising animal disease control and increasing biosecurity.
We carried out a total of 300 inspections across a wide range of agricultural businesses (farms, pet food manufacturers, feed mills, transporters etc) for which we received £99,000 of funding from the Food Standards Agency.
One hundred and thirty seven businesses required advice and guidance to ensure they were fully compliant. The most common issues were labelling and lack of sufficient measures to ensure safety of feed.
We received additional funding of £1,500 for sampling feed imported into Plymouth Docks.
We completed 100% of our Critical Control Point visits, which included livestock markets, collection centres, abattoirs and hauliers.
Common problems found at livestock markets included sheep that were unfit for sale and animals arriving at market that were unfit for transport. Our officers continue to have a high level of presence at markets, offering advice and guidance where appropriate.
The continued monitoring of biosecurity procedures at animal gatherings is of paramount importance to reduce the likelihood of the spread of animal disease.
Mental health and wellbeing in farming
To recognise, raise awareness and improve mental health and wellbeing.
In October our work on mental health and wellbeing in farming communities won the best project award at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute Hero Awards. The project brought together several rural organisations and support services to raise the profile of mental health in rural communities and to raise awareness of the help available.
The project continued throughout the year with two well subscribed webinars being held. Our webinars have been supported by more than a dozen organisations including Devon & Cornwall Police, Avon and Somerset Police, Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, Mind and CALM.
We have also raised awareness of mental health and wellbeing through face-to-face events and stands at the Devon County Show and Sedgemoor market.
An online mental health awareness training session was organised for our Trading Standards Officers and Trading Standards Farming Partnership members.
Used-car sales sector
Engage with most-complained-about car traders to reduce complaint levels and consumer detriment.
The top 10 most-complained-about car traders were audited and advised. A significant reduction in complaints was achieved in this group as a direct result of officer interventions.
More work needs to be done at some premises, but notable successes were achieved at three premises.
A very successful social media campaign was completed with expertise from officers and the Devon County Council Communications Team. An advert was created to whet the appetite of people searching for cars on Facebook. The ad contained a link to our website where more detailed advice on buying a second-hand car could be found.
In total the ads ran for three weeks, from 9 to 31 March 2022. The ads reached 285,370 people, appeared on screen 856,633 times and generated 1,914 link clicks and 53 interactions. This ‘reach’ is huge compared to traditional methods like leaflet drops and newspaper articles.
High to low priority premises interventions
Protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for business by targeting interventions.
Each year we carry out a risked-based, intelligence-led assessment of premises on our database identifying those which are high priority. We will aim to visit 100% of these premises. This year we completed 100% of our food manufacturer interventions, non-food manufacturers interventions and weighbridge visits.
One hundred per cent of high-priority petroleum interventions were completed and 80% of medium/low risk interventions. Petroleum continues to be a complex subject and we have given in-depth site-specific advice to airfields and marinas, in addition to high-risk non-compliant sites.
Only 22% of our Buy With Confidence re-audits were conducted due to businesses no longer trading or no longer being able to afford membership of the scheme due to COVID.
We carried out 49 out of 50 high-priority explosives visits (the remaining business was not storing). A visit to one business found many serious issues, including the storage of hazard type 3 explosives which was in breach of their licence. The storage of these explosives could have presented an unacceptable risk to the people living in the above residential flat. A decision was taken to have these explosives removed.
Paid-for business support
Buy With Confidence and Made In Devon
Our marketing campaign for Buy With Confidence this year has included radio advertising on Heart and Smooth and a social media drive, which members have supported through a photography shoot. Both of these have continued to attract local businesses to apply to join the scheme.
After two years of working remotely we are now busy preparing to start attending events to promote the scheme to both businesses and consumers and are looking forward to continuing to support our members.
Thirty-one members have joined our new Made in Devon scheme this year, with another 109 currently being processed. Promotion of the scheme has involved social media campaigns, as well as visiting markets, festivals and high streets. We have also conducted market research, with initial results being very promising for the future growth and reputation of the scheme.
Develop and provide paid-for services and partnership work
This is the first time, owing to COVID, that Primary Authority businesses were charged an annual fee. All businesses with the exception of one chose to remain within partnerships. We gained eight new partnerships over the course of the year, but unfortunately lost several due to ceasing trading, meaning our number currently stands at 46 partners.
Of the new partnerships, one took on a joint partnership with us and environmental health. We gained a new partner in Plymouth and began a targeted advertising campaign within this area to raise awareness of Primary Authority. We created a new written case study and promotional video for the scheme. We have also increased our contact with our Primary Authority businesses and our income for the year met our £10,000 target.
The Calibration Laboratory has maintained its accreditation for the year 2021-22 and is soon to have its major audit. External income for 2021-22 was £55,955 with further “savings” of £18,920 being made by testing our own standards rather than having to send them out.
We tested nearly 2,600 weights for a variety of customers including aerospace, pharmaceuticals and food producers, ranging from multinationals to local producers.
Most-complained-about traders (excluding motor trade)
Engage with problem traders to reduce complaint levels and consumer detriment
Our Tactical Assessment process highlighted four businesses in our service area over the past year that were causing significant harm to our consumers.
Ongoing intervention with these businesses, via regulatory advice and face-to-face visits, led to a 35% reduction on average in complaints over the reporting period.
In one case, the diligent actions of one officer resulted in the return of nearly £4,000 to consumers.
Supporting and protecting the most vulnerable
Scams awareness and prevention
Raising awareness of scams to educate consumers and businesses and provide support to victims.
We have secured a regular monthly scams slot on BBC Radio Devon and additional ad-hoc topical requests from BBC Radio Devon and BBC Radio Somerset. Topics have included Black Friday, COVID-related scams, romance scams and donating safely to the Ukraine.
Regular press releases have been issued throughout the year including all the above topics and many on COVID-related scams which are constantly changing. Our Facebook and Twitter pages are kept up to date with all the latest scams (over 200 throughout the year) and these are also in our consumer and business newsletters.
We have been awarded a partner recognition award by the Illegal Money Lending Team and secured funding from National Trading Standards for a project on scams affecting young people, working with Trading Standards South West (TSSW) and local universities
We have supported national campaigns including National Consumer Week, Scams fortnight, National Scams Month, Rogue Trader Week and TSSW week of action.
Partnership working with the South West Cyber Resilience Centre included a free webinar to businesses on cyber crime.
Working in partnership with the National Scams Team we received 420 referrals with 217 letters and leaflets sent out to possible scam victims. Thirteen have had direct intervention/support.
Doorstep crime and rogue traders
Take measures to prevent, disrupt and deter doorstep criminals and rogue traders.
This year we have:
- Improved our intervention strategy to place a greater emphasis on disruption and alternative enforcement outcomes.
- Reduced consumer detriment and achieved refunds for customers totalling more than £36,500 and also prevented consumers handing over more than £28,000.
- Achieved important results in court with the two Directors of a solar company being sentenced; one to 30 months imprisonment and banned as a Director for six years, and their fellow Director receiving a 12-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months and banned as a Director for four years. Another case resulted in a builder being convicted of fraudulent trading and sentenced to 21 months imprisonment.
- Worked with the Cosy Devon and the Plymouth Energy Community to raise awareness of cold calling and put forward strategies to reduce the problem in the green / renewable grant sector.
- Carried out three stop check days in partnership with the Police, Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency and Environment Agency, providing advice to traders on Trading Standards legislation.
- Provided training on the Fraud Act to our Investigations Team.
Safety at sports grounds
Ensuring that appropriate safety measures are in place at regulated sporting facilities.
Our Safety at Sports Grounds Team had a very busy year providing lots of advice and support to our regulated sporting facilities. Work included:
- Advice on COVID legislation including COVID Passports and the return of crowds after events behind closed doors. (Although all COVID rules were removed in February 2022, COVID challenges remain for all our venues.)
- Advice on the increase in disorder and anti-social behaviour at football grounds.
- Advice on reviewing Stewarding Plans to reflect the national shortages of stewards.
- Advice and support for our venues before and after Storm Eunice. Two of our clubs postponed their fixtures due to high level structural damage. This work involved close liaison with Civil Contingencies, Met Office and Structural Engineers.
- Support on the redevelopment of one venue and the reconfiguration of a stand at another.
We also received a positive report of our work from an audit conducted by the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA).
Food standards and feed (non government funded) market surveillance and sampling
Our Service continues to receive complaints about undeclared allergens and has undertaken several official control samples as part of visits to provide business advice on the control of allergens in food businesses.
One such complaint was about the presence of gluten in pizzas sold as gluten free. Two out of eight formal samples failed on the basis of undeclared gluten which poses a food safety risk for customers allergic or intolerant to gluten. Our Service, in partnership with Environmental Health have worked with the business to bring about improvements to the allergen control system to ensure food is safe to eat.
We have also conducted an investigation following intelligence from the National Food Crime Unit alleging false descriptions in relation to meat speciation. Two out of four formal samples failed in that products described as buffalo and kangaroo meat were in fact venison. This investigation was concluded with a service warning letter.
We completed an ongoing project into the use of surplus food as animal feed and sampled from seven bakeries. All were satisfactory however advice was required on storage/traceability.
We also took sampled cereals as part of a complaint about lead-poisoned arable land. These were satisfactory with no risk to animal health.
Three samples of a horse supplement were taken, all failed on labelling issues and the business decided to cease manufacture rather than make the required changes.
Helping people to live healthier lives by preventing harm and promoting individual health
Improving compliance in the local lettings sector
Increase consumer awareness, provide regulatory support and increase compliance.
This year we ran three social media campaigns between June and January, focusing on students and young people. The campaigns took place during summer, autumn and freshers’ week for students. The aim was to inform consumers about the changes in legislation which introduced a ban on some tenant fees. This campaign highlighted what they can and cannot be charged for by way of a short animation.
We also created a landing page on our website that people could click through to for further information, both for traders and consumers. In total our reach was 368,000, with 1.35 million impressions and 5,471 clicks.
The Service has conducted 43 online audits of agents actively advertising on Facebook, Zoopla, Rightmove and OnTheMarket. We found issues relating to:
- Not having energy performance certificates (EPCs).
- Not stating fees that are legally required to be stated.
- Agents stating they will charge prohibited fees.
- Not having client money protection membership or redress membership when legally required to do so.
- Not displaying the correct information on third-party sites.
Eighty-eight per cent of the agents we audited required advice to comply with current legislation.
We have also been developing an intelligence-sharing agreement with district councils and unitary authorities. This relates to the private rented sector and will allow us to share information between interested parties more easily.
Prevent harm to consumers by ensuring businesses comply with legislation regarding the sale of age-restricted products including tobacco.
Test purchasing operations have been conducted for nicotine vape products identifying non-compliant sellers. Nine visits were conducted with a 22% failure rate.
Work is ongoing to identify sellers of vape products and advise them on the sale of age-restricted products whilst building intelligence for future operations.
A flyer is being produced for intended distribution to secondary schools and we maintain strong links with the Devon Smokefree Alliance and Smokefree Somerset Alliance with regards to the issues of age-restricted products in schools.
We continue to promote the No Proof Of Age No Sale (NPOANS) scheme and a refresher course for traders is due for release imminently.
Traders have been made aware of new legislation around the sale of knives, bladed items and hazardous material.
Prevent harm to consumers by restricting the supply of illicit tobacco.
As part of the National Operation CeCe, aimed at tackling illegal tobacco, the Service conducted six days of raids in partnership with HMRC and the Police, seizing approximately £102,000 worth of tobacco.
In total 451,040 cigarettes and 77.85kg of hand-rolling tobacco were seized along with a number of non-compliant shisha and vape products.
Two premises have seen their alcohol licences revoked and investigations into all cases are continuing.
Product safety market surveillance and sampling
To help protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for businesses.
Thirty-six samples were taken in total with a 36% failure rate.
Cot toy sampling found failures ranging from choking hazards to poor labelling. One manufacturer in our area recalled their items, and eBay have removed similar products based on our test results. The issues have been referred to the Office for Product Safety & Standards.
Divers air was sampled in Plymouth with follow-up required for one of the cylinders as the air was misdescribed. We liaised with the Health & Safety Executive over the findings.
Our market surveillance work included checking labelling on vape pens, popper toys and furniture with follow-up advice given to retailers and suppliers.
Kettles and magnetic toys all came back satisfactory.
We have dealt with products that have been stopped at ports such as toys and cosmetics. We have also found issues with cosmetic products which had a lack of documents, non-compliant health claims and poor labelling. These are being followed up with visits. We also carried out 20 visits to manufacturers using a risk-based approach.
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