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Annual Performance Report 2023-24


By Fakir Osman, Head of Trading Standards, Business Support and Innovation

It has been another busy year in the Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service (HotSW TS). Alongside other Trading Standards services across the country, we continue to enforce over 200 pieces of legislation and this year we were given additional responsibilities in relation to cosmetics, single-use plastics and vapes.

In order to make the best use of our resources, we focused on five priority areas during 2023-24:

  • Scams
  • Doorstep crime and rogue trading
  • Animal health and welfare, including disease control
  • Illicit tobacco and vapes
  • Food allergens and standards.

Supporting farmers and the rural community continues to be one of our key focus areas. An important initiative is the Future Farming Resilience programme. For this we have secured funding for a two-year campaign to provide vital access to support and provide information on mental health and wellbeing for farmers across the South West. This includes workshops, one-to-one advice at agricultural shows and venues plus wellness webinars and the bi-annual Trading Standards Farming Partnership newsletter. This work is being carried out together with colleagues from other South West local authorities and our Business Support and Innovation Team.

Our interventions for victims of scams and rogue traders saved consumers over £237,000. Scammers continue to adapt and develop rapidly and our scams awareness posts on social media, which averaged six a week over the year, aim to help inform the public of what to look out for. Emerging issues revolve around romance scams, cryptocurrency, malware and phishing and the use of artificial intelligence.

For rogue traders, the most common complaint types received include used cars and roofers/builders and we have successfully prosecuted several rogue traders this year.

Officers were involved in many multi-agency warrants and interventions which has led to the seizing of 876,968 illicit cigarettes and 417.9 kg of illicit hand rolling tobacco, along with illegal vapes. Many of the premises raided have links with organised crime groups. Illegal vapes are a growing issue and we took part in Operation Joseph, a nationally funded intelligence gathering operation covering the test purchasing of ‘legal’ vapes, online test purchasing and storage/destruction costs. Some of the samples failed legal requirements and the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency have been informed. We continue to work with partner agencies to deal with and find innovative ways to disrupt these businesses which import and trade in illegal tobacco and vapes.

Following on from our project last year where over 50% of businesses tested failed to comply with “Natasha’s Law” regarding food/allergen labelling, further allergen sampling was conducted this year with further failures being found. This area of work will remain a priority for us into next year.

Protecting consumers from harm through product safety remains a core objective for trading standards and we have been involved in, or have instigated, various product recalls, including a number of baby and children’s products.

In addition to the above examples, our officers work across a large number of areas including paid-for business advice, metrology services/training, animal feed, safety at sports grounds and explosives/petroleum licencing in order to help protect our wonderful region and its consumers and businesses.

We are proud of what we achieve in our work though as it was for the previous year, budget cuts, ageing workforce, staff recruitment and retention issues remain an area of concern going forward. We continue to push as much as possible to retain staff to protect consumers and create a level playing field for our businesses.


We have 0.024 Trading Standards Officers per 1,000 population and 0.501 Trading Standards Officers per 1,000 businesses.

The Service operates from six offices, which are located in Plymouth, Torbay, Kingsteignton, Exeter, Barnstaple and Wellington.

The year in numbers

  • Complaints received and assessed: 12,111
  • Complaints dealt with: 2,539
  • Business advice requests answered: 898
  • Other agency requests answered: 444
  • Inspections completed: 1,190
  • Alternative enforcement actions: 1,268
  • Licences issued: 165
  • Formal actions: 35

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.

There were two outbreaks of Avian Flu in April (Newton Abbot) and December (Stoke Cannon). Foot patrols, local letters and social media were all deployed to help contain any further spreading of the disease.

Our closer working relationship with the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) continued across shared intelligence and joint operations. Following a three-year enforcement programme of visits and interventions with APHA, the number of overdue TB tests in the HotSW area has reduced from over 100 to single figures.

196 (98% of our target) Critical Control Point visits were completed across livestock markets, collection centres, abattoirs and hauliers. Our officers continue to have a high level of presence at markets, offering advice and guidance where appropriate and we continue to monitor biosecurity procedures at animal gatherings to reduce the likelihood of the spread of animal disease.

Our multi-agency ‘Operation Trader/Trailer’ vehicle stops took place throughout 23/24 together with other agencies including APHA, HMRC, Environmental Health and Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency. The operations took place on public roads in April (Tiverton), July (Bridgwater), September (Plymouth), October (Devon) and November (Cartgate, Somerset). Operations looked at:

  • Vehicle roadworthiness and load security
  • Plant and agricultural vehicle theft
  • Disease control and welfare of animals in transit
  • Denying criminals use of the road.

Other work included:

  • Illegal dog breeding/importing/Dangerous Dogs Act
  • Close working with police (Devon & Cornwall Police in Devon and Avon & Somerset Police in Somerset)
  • Supporting agricultural training for young farmers
  • Attending agricultural shows.

Mental health and wellbeing in farming

To recognise, raise awareness and improve mental health and wellbeing.

Our Rural Support and Wellbeing project campaign continues to go from strength to strength. This year, we hosted workshops and exhibited at agricultural shows across Devon and Somerset working closely with external agencies such as Devon & Cornwall Police Rural Affairs Team, Farming Community Network, NFU Mutual, Devon MIND and Business Information Point (BIP).

Together with the Public Health Team we also hosted ‘Health Hubs’ which offered check-ups and the opportunity to speak with a mental health nurse. The campaign aims to make a real difference through identifying health issues and alleviating loneliness in the farming community.​

Additionally, the Future Farming Resilience project has secured funding to support our Rural Support and Wellbeing workshops across the greater South West area over the next two years and we are rolling out a programme of in-person and online funded workshops.

To date we have hosted 15 workshops with 350 attendees and a total of 277 farmers reached.

We also produced the bi-annual subscriber only Trading Standards Farming Partnership newsletter for the farming industry (registered farmers, hauliers, auctioneers, farming support charities, some emergency agencies, mental health support services, BIP, Growth Hub, APHA and private vets).

High to low priority premises interventions

Protecting consumers and ensuring 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 aim to visit 100% of these premises. This year we completed 100% of our food business interventions, non-food manufacturers interventions, firework inspections and petroleum inspections. ​​

Paid-for business support

Buy With Confidence (BWC) and Made in Devon

It has been a year of consolidation for this assurance scheme and we are hopeful that the membership has been shored up after losses in 2022/23.

BWC membership is now being handled by the BWC central team (as opposed to a local-based team).

The new BWC website was launched at the end of March 2024.

Primary Authority

The standard fee for a Primary Authority (PA) agreement is now £900 for 10 hours’ work which provides a business with reliable regulatory advice that is tailored to their circumstances. A named Trading Standards Officer will work with a business providing advice and support on issues from dealing with product recalls and complaints through to advising on existing and new product safety/legal/labelling complex issues.

The benefits of this can be seen in the example of a Plymouth-based car trader. Their PA relationship with us saw their number of complaints drop dramatically and their revenue increase by £30-40k following our advice on trading and systems.

Other PA work this year included:

  • Various product safety issues and recalls 
  • UKCA/CE marking legislation 
  • Containers stopped at ports 
  • Fair trading issues 
  • Food legislation and labelling 
  • Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point advice  
  • Weights and measures advice,  
  • Liaising with Environmental Health Officers.  

Calibration Services

Our metrology laboratory goes from strength to strength generating an income of £71,916 against a target of £55,000.

This year we also raised £22,500 through our courses for trainees from other local authorities. These have been so popular that we are hosting another programme in 2024/25 and this is being promoted by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).

Feedback from course attendees includes:

“Vic and John are great trainers and are really knowledgeable. The course was run well and I liked that it was quite informal as I felt I could ask questions and go over things I wasn’t sure on. Vic and John were good at tailoring the course to my very limited knowledge on weights and measures. Thank you!”

“I found that with the CTSI courses, I was expected to have a level of knowledge from the start, which I struggled with as I had done very little practical work. Vic and John were able to pitch the training based on the level of knowledge that we had (practically none!) which made it a lot easier to learn and understand. Thanks also to Emma, who has been incredibly helpful from the first enquiries made.”

“…for London Authorities in particular, it’s difficult to assess the other larger/specialised equipment for the portfolio (weighbridges etc) whether that be due to the lack of access or lack of local authority support with most authorities not having a qualified weights and measures officer, so I wonder whether the team has capacity to put on secondary course focusing on the other parts of the portfolio? Just a thought, and something I know several authorities would be interested in. Thanks again to the whole team for organising, you have certainly put our faith back into weights and measures!”

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 supported many scams awareness campaigns during 2023/24 including a Scams Awareness Week and a Scams Awareness fortnight. We also supported the national ‘Stop Think Fraud’ campaign.

We also worked to raise awareness around:

Emerging scams issues are artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, investment scams, device malware and romance scams.

Cases officers dealt with included:

  • A Somerset resident who lost £40,000 in a cryptocurrency scam (featured on ITV’s This Morning). 
  • A consumer who had lost £22,000 to scammers whilst he believed he was in a relationship with TV presenter Susanna Reid. 
  • A victim of clairvoyant scam who had been sending ‘Carmen’ money and letters for many years. It took a while to persuade the victim it was a fraud. Some money has been returned and the case is still open. 
  • Providing advice to stop a consumer applying for a loan via Facebook. 
  • Convincing and advising a victim of a romance scam who had sent so much money she was using foodbanks. 

​We continue to send out consumer and business newsletters which often contain articles about scams.

Key stats:

  • Amount saved for scam victims: £72,500
  • Number of times our Scams lead officer has spoken on local radio about scams: five
  • Scams-related social media posts: 345
  • Scams-related press releases: six
  • Newsletters containing scams articles: six.

Doorstep crime and rogue traders

Taking measures to prevent, disrupt and deter doorstep criminals and rogue traders.

Officers dealt with 423 doorstep crime and rogue trader complaints, over 50% of which were roofing/roofing insulation related. Work includes enforcement work, live call outs and victim support.

Prosecutions this year included:

  • Samuel Harvey, of Greenbank Road, Barnstaple, was sentenced at Exeter Crown Court on 30 March. Harvey had pleaded guilty to three offences under the Fraud Act and two offences under Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. Read more: Rogue builder jailed for fraud.
  • Mervyn Rhys Richards, of Swindon, was ordered to pay a fine of £6,500, £190 victim surcharge, £4,250 towards prosecution costs and £27,500 in compensation after pleading guilty at Taunton Magistrates Court on 6 November. Read more: Rogue trader ordered to repay elderly victim £27,500.
  • Rogue trader Ambrose Christopher Reilly from Plymouth was ordered to serve a one-year prison sentence at Plymouth Crown Court in October. Reilly had pleaded guilty to two offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Read more: Rogue trader jailed
  • Rogue plumbing and heating engineer Gary Coombes, of Bridgwater, pleaded guilty to seven counts of fraud at Taunton Crown Court on Tuesday 22 August. Mr Coombes, who ‘preyed’ on an elderly couple, defrauding them of £13,000, was given a 12-month suspended prison sentence. Read more: Plumber who defrauded elderly couple given suspended sentence.

Key stats:

  • £101,595 prevented from being handed over to doorstep criminals
  • Refunds of £63,691 for consumers.

Fair trading

Engage with problem traders to reduce complaint levels and consumer detriment.

Officers worked on 438 fair trading complaints, 46% of which were about used cars.

Safety at sports grounds

Ensuring that appropriate safety measures are in place at regulated sporting facilities.

Our audit by the Sports Ground Safety Authority was our most successful to date, now only requiring us to be audited every two years instead of annually.

We issued a Special Safety Certificate for four ‘Party on the Pitch’ events at Exeter Rugby Club.

Our Safety at Sports Grounds Officers worked with other agencies and sports grounds officials at various cricket clubs, football clubs, racecourses and other sporting venues across our area in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of spectators.

The proposed Martyn’s Law was tabled which relates to the safety and protection of venues specifically in relation to terrorism.

Officers also worked with sports venues on

  • New operational plans
  • Amendments to general certificates​
  • Advice on safety management problems​
  • Transport management plans​ and crowd control
  • Grading and risk assessments of venues.

Key stats:

  • Special Advisory Group meetings: 11
  • Annual reviews of safety certificates relating to regulated venues: seven
  • Event inspections carried out according to risk: nine.

Food standards

To help protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for businesses.

The single-use plastics ban for serving ready-to-eat food came into effect in October 2023.

In July we published the results of a project carried out by HotSW TS. Fifty-six out of 100 businesses visited in Devon, Somerset and Torbay were in breach of new Government rules of Natasha’s Law. This requires full ingredient/allergen labelling on all food made on premises or pre-packed for direct sale.

American candy is a growing concern with large numbers of non-compliant sweets and fizzy drinks (often including banned additives) imported from the US. We are working with a large South West based business on their compliance, though this is a nationwide issue.

Initial results in our international food retailers food sampling project show serious breaches including foreign labelled food, imported sweets with unauthorised ingredients and mandatory food labelling deficiencies. We are waiting for all sample results to come back for this project.

In other sampling, over a third of allergen food samples taken from sit-down premises failed, mainly because they contained milk when they were labelled as not doing so. All businesses with failed samples have been re-risked to high and will be followed up next year.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has revised its Food Law Code of Practice concerning the re-risking of businesses and visit interventions frequencies. We are in the process of implementing adaptions for this.

From January 2024, all food sold in Great Britain requires a GB address to be shown on the label, which poses potential issues for warehouses with long shelf-life foods which have labelling that precedes this date.

Key stats:

  • High risk inspections: 101
  • International food retailer inspections: 29
  • Number of allergen samples taken at sit-down premises: 76
  • Percentage of samples coming back as unsatisfactory: 38%
  • Number of other food samples taken: 27
  • Percentage of samples coming back as unsatisfactory: 81%.


To help protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for businesses.

We carried out 314 funded visits to businesses across the agriculture sector including feed mills, transporters, pet food businesses, food businesses supplying surplus or co-products as animal feed and a large number of farms. All of our visits were to businesses that were due a visit (using the FSA risk scoring) or were previously non-compliant. Each visit involved providing business support by promoting the Heart of the South West Growth Hub, Future Farm Resilience programme and other service provisions. Approximately one third of visits required additional work to bring businesses back into compliance. ​

All of the farms visited had animal health issues that were dealt with during the inspections.​

​National funded sampling projects included:

  • Pig feed for essential nutrients
  • Sampling of mineral feed
  • Funded mill visits for pig/poultry samples.

All samples were satisfactory.

We carried out two non-funded sampling projects:

  • An online pet food suppliers project – traders selling pet food online were unaware of compliance issues with labelling when repackaging (such as claims of home-made or organic etc.). More work is planned on this in 2024/25.
  • Cereals for animal feed sampling project – we found that fewer farmers are growing these due to transport/fuel costs, harvesting staff recruitment, wet weather and grants for pastures/tree planting.

Non-funded inspections:

  • Number of business interventions: 61
  • Total samples taken: 18
  • Percentage of samples coming back as unsatisfactory: 75%

Funded inspections:

  • Percentage of funded inspections completed: 100% (314)
  • Total samples taken: eight
  • Percentage of samples coming back as unsatisfactory: 0%.

Helping people to live healthier lives by preventing harm and promoting individual health

Product safety market surveillance and sampling

To help protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for businesses.

Officers worked on product recalls including:

  • Children’s shoes
  • Baby bath seats
  • Children’s water bottles
  • BBQ fridges
  • Wax melters
  • Wetsuit glue
  • E-scooters
  • Hair dye
  • Wooden toys.

We advised businesses with the re-manufacturing of products to comply with product safety regulations and UKCA/CE marking.

We carried out high-risk visits on shops selling fireworks and licences were granted (subject to compliance checks).

Media campaigns we have run throughout the year include product safety markings, fireworks, and summer, Halloween and Christmas safety.

There were two product safety sampling projects in 2023/24:

  • Children’s flip flop project – samples came back as containing carcinogenic chemicals and the results were referred to the Office for Product Safety and Standards. (The Chartered Trading Standards Institute has also found a bow and arrow toy had over 100 times the legal limit of phthalates, while a fashion doll set was 300 times over the legal limit.)
  • Baby soother clips safety project – 70% of samples failed on safety, four needing recall/removing from sale due to choking hazards/labelling.

We also ran an e-scooter/e-bike project, contacting all businesses in the South West region to remind them of their responsibilities after several reports of e-scooter/e-bike batteries catching fire. We also ran a campaign aimed at consumers to highlight the potential dangers of these sorts of batteries. To fund this campaign, we obtained a grant from the charity Electrical Safety First. This campaign included sending businesses that sell or rent e-vehicles stickers to display in their windows. The stickers show a QR code that links to advice on the Electrical Safety First website. We also ran a social media advertising campaign aimed at those people who might be looking to buy or use these sorts of e-vehicles, and parents of young people who might be looking to buy them for their children. This social media campaign ran from April to mid-May 2024.

We have continued to work closely with the ports authorities when products/containers have been detained and have been able to authorise release.

Key stats:

  • High-priority firework inspections: 47
  • High-priority non-food inspections: 18
  • Total number of business inspections: 126
  • Number of products removed from sale (value): 6,212 (£94,896)
  • Number of samples taken: 119
  • Percentage of samples coming back as unsatisfactory: 47.5%

Illicit tobacco

Preventing harm to consumers by restricting the supply of illicit tobacco.

Each year HotSW TS officers carry out a large number of operations to tackle the importing, storing and buying and selling of illegal tobacco and vapes. In 2023/24 there were 15 named operations which were carried out together with other enforcement agencies and many additional enforcement visits which took place as a result of intelligence received.

Key stats:

  • Number of enforcement actions carried out: 110
  • Number of premises from which products were seized: 34
  • Number of individual cigarettes seized: 876,968
  • Amount of hand-rolling tobacco seized: 417.9 kg
  • Number of individual niche tobacco products seized: 30

HotSW TS also took part in Operation Joseph. This nationally funded intelligence gathering operation covered test purchasing of ‘legal’ vapes, online test purchasing and storage/destruction costs. Some of the samples failed legal requirements and the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has been informed.

Age-restricted products

Preventing harm to consumers by ensuring businesses comply with legislation regarding the sale of age-restricted products including tobacco​.

Emerging issues are around concern over child-appealing packaging on vapes and the underage sale of vapes. In relation to this we undertake under-age sales test purchasing of tobacco to under 18s in order to check compliance with this legislation.

There is also concern for underage sale of offensive weapons, particularly knives to under 18s, and we have been advising retailers and online retailers on their responsibilities to comply with legislation.