Trading Standards Institute Advice

Trading standards: inspections and powers

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In the guide

Why trading standards officers visit businesses and what powers they have, plus the Consumer Rights Act's 'enhanced consumer measures'

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

People working for trading standards are employees of your local council and are qualified in different ways to take on different aspects of law enforcement (due to the different levels of qualification and different job titles used they are referred to generically in this guide as trading standards officers, or TSOs).

Trading standards services enforce the law in a number of subject areas:

  • age restricted products
  • agriculture
  • animal health and welfare
  • fair trading, which includes:
    - pricing
    - descriptions of goods, digital content and services
    - terms and conditions
  • food standards and safety (some types of trading standards services, including London boroughs and those in Scotland, do not enforce food law)
  • intellectual property (for example, counterfeiting)
  • product safety
  • weights and measures

Why are they visiting me?

Trading standards services carry out routine inspections of premises so it may be that they have chosen to visit stores around your area. It may also be that another business or a member of the public has made a complaint. Depending on the nature of the complaint TSOs may wish to inspect your store and/or ask about and examine relevant products or paperwork.

Do they have any powers?

TSOs are given powers under Schedule 5 to the Consumer Rights Act 2015:

  • in most cases they can enter any premises to which the public have access (except those used solely as a dwelling) to observe the carrying on of your business or to make a test purchase at all reasonable times. Refusal of entry could be viewed as obstructing an officer, which is a criminal offence
  • if the entry is for a routine inspection then the TSO must give you two days' written notice of the inspection before entering your premises. However, notice is not needed if:
    - you have waived the need for it to be given to you
    - the TSO has reasonable suspicion that you have broken the law
    - giving notice would defeat the purpose of the visit
    - it is not practicable to give you notice - for example, there is an imminent risk to public health or safety
    - the entry is for the purposes of market surveillance activities under certain European safety legislation

TSOs have a range of additional powers dependent upon the legislation they are enforcing. These include the power to require traders to produce documents relating to their business and powers to seize and detain goods and documents in certain circumstances.

How will I know that they are genuine?

It is not unknown for fraudsters to impersonate TSOs so genuine TSOs will always carry photographic identification, which will usually show their name, department and the local authority they work for. If you have any doubts then call your local authority right away.

Can they close businesses down?

No. Trading standards services have no powers to stop a business trading.

What can trading standards services do to stop businesses that break the law?

They can use a wide-range of options from 'informal assurances' right up to a prosecution. Each authority will have an enforcement policy, which states what they will do in order to ensure that the action they take is fair and proportionate. This can be requested from your local authority.

A consumer has complained to his local trading standards service about your business; can the trading standards service get redress for the consumer?

No. The dispute is between your business and the consumer and, although trading standards can offer advice to either party, only the courts can award payment of compensation etc.

Aren't trading standards services just there to protect consumers rather than businesses?

No. Fair trading means that other businesses are not disadvantaged by unfair or illegal trading practices. In fact, trading standards services enforce the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 and also give advice to businesses. See 'Business-to-business marketing' for further details.

Investigatory powers & enhanced consumer measures

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS, which was known as the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills at the time) has produced detailed guidance on how the Consumer Rights Act 2015 affects trading standards officers' powers: Investigatory powers of consumer law enforcers: guidance for businesses on the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

BEIS has also published guidance on the 'enhanced consumer measures' brought in by the Consumer Rights Act 2015: Enhanced consumer measures: guidance for enforcers of consumer law (opens in a new window). As the document's title suggests, it is primarily aimed at TSOs but it may also be of interest to businesses in their dealings with trading standards services.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: December 2017

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

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