Trading standards

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at anyone who is dissatisfied with the way a council’s trading standards office has dealt with their complaint about a trader, or the way in which a council has carried out its investigative, monitoring and enforcement work, and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

A local trader has broken consumer protection law and I have reported this to the local trading standards office, but it has not pursued the matter. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In some cases, yes. But there are some matters we are not allowed to look at by law:

  • We cannot deal with a complaint about the ‘rogue’ trader. We can only look at the way your complaint about the trader was handled by the council. You may have legal rights against the trader and these are not affected by your complaints either to the Ombudsman or to the council.
  • We cannot normally deal with a complaint about the merits of a council’s properly-taken decision – for example, a decision not to investigate your complaint or not prosecute the trader. Councils have discretion on trading standards matters as to whether, and to what extent, to investigate a particular complaint: and their decisions are taken in the general interests of the public, rather than the interest of the individual complainant. So complaining to the council does not necessarily mean that you will have no need to take action against the trader yourself.
  • If the council does prosecute the trader, we cannot look at what goes on in court.
  • In most cases a council will refer complaints about civil law matters, such as breach of contract, to the Citizens Advice consumer service. See the Consumer rights page of Gov.uk.

But we can consider complaints about:

  • whether the council has properly considered what level of investigation to carry out, and
  • the way in which any investigation was conducted.

I am a trader and I am dissatisfied with the way the council has treated me. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes in some circumstances. But the law prevents us from considering some matters.

We cannot consider complaints about the commencement or conduct of court proceedings, but we may be able to consider complaints about what happened before the council decided to start court proceedings.

We may be able to consider complaints about advice and guidance given by the council, or that it has failed to follow its policies and procedures.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 481 1595.

You can complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it dealt with your complaint which has caused you problems. Some of the issues we can look at are if the council:

  • delayed in dealing with your complaint or failed to keep you informed
  • did not properly consider whether to investigate the complaint, or
  • having decided to investigate, did not carry out an adequate and timely investigation; and did not keep proper records of the complaint and any investigation.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

If we find errors in the way that the council made its decisions about how to deal with your complaint, we would consider whether the council would have been likely to make different decisions if it had not made those errors. If so, we might recommend that the council:

  • take action to put the matter right, such as to correct mistakes in records or, where appropriate, to carry out another investigation
  • apologise for what went wrong
  • we may ask the council to make a payment to you. Whether we do this and the amount we suggest will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong, or
  • where we find fault with the council’s procedures, we will often recommend that the council makes changes so that the same problem does not occur again.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

A woman complained to her local trading standards office about faults in the way a local garage had serviced and repaired her car. The council carried out a proper investigation and, although there were some delays in it doing so, the Ombudsman did not consider they were sufficient to amount to administrative fault. The investigating officer recommended prosecution, but the council subsequently decided not to do so. The evidence was not considered sufficiently strong to support a successful prosecution (this was not the council’s fault). The council said it would provide the complainant with a copy of the report by its expert witness if she was able to show it was required in connection with her own civil action against the garage. The Ombudsman did not consider there was fault in the way the council dealt with this complaint.
A council took action against a company, including seizing goods which the complainant had left with them. The goods had been badly damaged by the company and were effectively worthless when the council seized them. The council initially said that it would prosecute the company but decided not to do so. The complainant said that he had lost the opportunity to sue the company because he could not rely upon a successful prosecution by the council and he no longer had evidence that his goods were damaged. The Ombudsman did not find fault in the way the council decided not to prosecute. However, the council should have kept the complainant properly informed, and should have given him adequate notice that it intended to dispose of his goods, so that he had the opportunity to collect them. Having failed to do this, it should have referred his complaint to its insurers immediately. The council agreed to pay £500 for the complainant’s considerable trouble and inconvenience, and to put matters into the hands of its insurers. The Ombudsman accepted this as a suitable way of settling the complaint.

Other sources of information

Most councils have lots of information and advice about trading standards and consumer protection issues on their own websites.

Ring Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or see their website: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/get-more-help/if-you-need-more-help-about-a-consumer-issue/

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

 May 2017

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