Trading Standards Officers in the UK have a wide array of powers which have recently been consolidated by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (“CRA”).
Use of Investigatory Powers
Over the past year, we have seen an increase in Trading Standards Officers’ willingness to utilise the full suite of powers at their disposal. Many UK businesses are surprised to learn that Trading Standards Officers have powers which go over and above those of Police officers. A list of Trading Standards’ Officers’ “generic” powers (found within Schedule 5 of the CRA) is set out below:
- Power to purchase products – the definition of “product” includes goods, services and digital media
- Power to observe the carrying on of a business
- Power to enter premises without a warrant (in limited circumstances)
- Power to inspect products
- Power to test equipment
- Power to require the production of documents
- Power to seize and detain goods
- Power to break open a container
- Power to access any electronic device in which information may be stored, or from where it may be accessed (i.e. cloud storage)
- Power to require assistance from persons on the premises
Businesses in the retail and food and beverage sectors should be aware that Trading Standards teams are more likely to act once they’ve received a high number of complaints from consumers. As such, we recommend that businesses review and identifying frequently re-occurring customer complaints to minimise the risk of a visit from Trading Standards. Dealing with consumer complaints across the range of social media channels is key to understanding how your products are being received in the marketplace.
It is clear that the UK recession and associated budget cuts in 2008 to 2013 had a substantial impact on the number of Trading Standards investigations. However, we are now seeing an increase in investigations generally and the use of sophisticated test purchasing operations and requests for the production of documents. By way of example, Gloucestershire Trading Standards have recently been targeting vehicle repair centres and requesting that rigged vehicles (with known faults) are serviced under their power to test purchase. This “sting” operation resulted in Halfords Autocentre being fined £32,000 plus costs of £14,862.