Comment from: A Trading Standards Officer [Visitor]
A Trading Standards Officer

As discussed in the other thread the practice of upping and lowering prices is not illegal. They could change the price up and down every single day if they wanted to.

What is important is the claims that go with it. If ASDA are committing offences then it is up to the regulator to decide what action to take. This is where Hampton comes in. If the business has a good history then just telling them not to do it again might be enough. If they have a bad history then a more formal route may be apropriate. Nothing in Hampton stops you proseucting a breach of the law but it must be justified.

Bear in mind a prosecution may well cost £20,000+ and your local taxpayers might not be so happy with the cost incurred over such a ‘minor’ matter.

11/04/12 @ 20:04
Comment from: [Member]
Value hunter

“Advisory” regulation/enforcement is down to the Hampton principles and simply does not work. Consumers are losing Billions every year.

If a goofball like me can catch a multi national company mass advertising misleading prices twice in 3 months, why not the regulators/enforcement bodies?
They can’t spot them because they have a “compliant” status - which is impossible for them to lose - and the benefits associated with having a “compliant” status, combined with the Hampton principles “needs of the business” governing regulator and enforcement body alike, preventing inspection.

With the greatest respect, this cannot be allowed to go on.
This type of thing is happening with energy suppliers, supermarkets, banks, etc.
I’ve posted to which? forums today, supporting their stance against the latest government initiatives to protect the consumer, where I might add, I have once again called for powers to be returned to trading standards and the Hampton “advisory” principles to be dropped. I will continue to do so.

As it stands now, in the example I have posted about, a complaint to the primary authority woul;d result in nothing being done. As you say, finances and policy dictate what trading standards can do.
Asda (and all other big businesses) know this.

Will asda pay this money back to their customers?
Will asda be held to account for misleading on prices?
What’s to stop this happening again?
No official body/regulator/enforcement body is checking.
How many other product lines is this happening with?

I asked asda today on twitter about refunding customers…. no reply.
I know grumbling about 88p may seem petty, but there is a principle involved.
What better deterrant, than to have their compliant status taken away until this stops?
Under the Hampton principles, this is not permitted by any official body, as it would be detrimental to the business.

So the public are trapped into a cycle of sharp business practices, trading standards have one hand tied behind their back, regulators sit on their hands and hope for businesses to comply (like they should have that option) with requests and whose expense?
The customers.

I asked trading standards via twitter if they too would be calling for an end to advisory regulation/enforcement and opposing the new proposals put forward, that which? agree will be bad for consumers, I got a standard reply about how they would be protecting their rights but no answer.

Thanks for taking the time to post.

12/04/12 @ 00:38
Comment from: Trading Standards Officer [Visitor]
Trading Standards Officer

Unfortunatley we do not have the time to go out activley looking for stuff - just monitoring the pricing of the 5 big supermarkets would eact up resources. We are complaint led, which means we target our resources in the areas where there are most problems (and the law is being broken) - my dept works this way and most depts should.

The point of Hampton is that you tackle problems based on risk and the information you have - i.e complaint data. You don’t just spend (waste) time going out looking for problems when 99% of the time you might not even find them.

It is hard to go out spending time looking for problems when you already have more than enough complaints to deal with.

The only areas we tend to do inspections is in the technical areas like food and weights and measures (because people would not be able to spot these problems themselves). Or other areas where we think there may be problems - but only on intelligence. We do not spend a huge amount of time looking for work because we have enough in the way of complaints.

All I can suggest is complaining - the more complaints about something that come in the more likely something will be done about it.

I am fairly sure TSI will be asking to retain current powers. Its worth bearing in mind they are just the professional association for TS. They do not represent any actual TS depts.

As for ASDA, without seeing the pricing history AND the advertising that went with it it is hard to say whether the law has been broken. The alw around pricing is both complex AND quite weak it has to be said.

To clarify a few things, a Primary Authority cannot stop a prosecution nand one benefit of referring complaints on to the local TS is that they can build up a picture of the problem and deal with it.

I act as a local officer for many companies in my area and if complaints come in I hold meetings with them to prevent the same thing happening again - ofte nthis is better than a prosecution because the ocmpany may then refuse to talk to us which leads to consumers ending up worse off as we lose the link wiht a very large business.

Finally, there is no real concept of a ‘compliant’ business, officially anyway. A compliant business will be dealt differently than a non compliant one. What Haptonwas trying to say was if you have a compliant business and no valid reason for continually visiting them - then don’t. There are issues with that approach but it was basically designed to stop TS visiting compliant businesses when really there was no point.

Hampton does not protection people like ASDA from being prsoecuted. most complaints about pricing would come in via the new Citizens Advice Consuemr Helpline - we wouldn;t need to visit the store. If enough complaints came in to show a pattern then action could be taken. A sole complaint that shows an offence could lead to prosecution. As it is I am not convinced ASDA have broken the law in this case.

12/04/12 @ 02:20
Comment from: [Member]
Value hunter

Hampton does protect big (read compliant) businesses.

Proof:
How did the Hampton principles protect customers and taxpayers in the case of RBS?
£45 BILLION pounds was required to stop them collapsing, the FSA blamed themselves, saying that “advisory” regulation completely failed to not only spot what was going on whilst it happened - RBS deemed compliant with regulator under Hampton, only required to produce limited data to the FSA and no inspections - this has left the taxpayer sitting on a £25 Billion debt/loss and leaves all taxpayers of the UK facing cuts and higher taxation to pay for this.
Not just RBS, this is just one banking example of Hampton protecting big businesses and completely failing.

Other examples:
OFGEM fine EDF a £1 - then announce a donation of £4 million split between vulnerable customers (for insulation) and the CAB.
As they are deemed to be “compliant” with OFGEM the £4 million can be clawed back under the energy obligation scheme - which allows them to charge a flat fee which of course will go back on to customer’s bills and pushes up the price of insulation, creating a base price (customer loses out again).
So despite mis-selling, misleading bills, etc, they go unpunished.
This is made worse still as less than three weeks later, EDF are handed a government contract worth more than £13 million!
Had OFGEM not been tied to the Hampton principles, they could have issued a fine to EDF, which have covered the costs of their investigation which went on for months, releasing more funds for regulators/enforcement bodies? removing their “compliant” status would then have cost them the £13 million government contract and a shining example would have been set for the companies in that industry that they must comply with the law and by not doing EDF lost a lot of business. The contract would have acted as a reward to the company that did get it, for not doing what others were doing and being investigated for.

OFCOM - Ask the thousands of Orange customers who were sold a mobile phone contract for a set amount per month, only to have it increased in price mid contract.
Orange staff told customers that OFCOM had vetted their contracts before they used them and knew about it.
The clause to increase prices mid term, was buried in the small print, in the end OFCOM said it was down to the individual!

The point being, before Hampton, businesses had to operate to the letter of the law, since Hampton, they only have to operate to the interpretation of the regulator/enforcement body.
I find it staggering in the extreme, that speaking to various regulators/enforcement bodies, they simply do not listen to consumers, their interpretation is correct end of.

Well they are wrong!
Save a few million and be more cost effective in regulation/enforcement OR get the regulation and enforcement wrong and pay billions in cuts to services and continual higher prices?
It’s a no brainer, the regulators and enforcement bodies just don’t seem to be able to grasp!

I know you haven’t seen the evidence, but how can say that you are not convinced that asda have done anything wrong in my post?

Advertising the price of an item on national television for 6 days as being £1
Selling the same item for £1.88 through 530 odd stores and via their home ordering website, for the same 6 days.
How is that not misleading the customer?
How is that not breaking the law?

What would it take for you “to be convinced"?

Why won’t asda answer questions on twitter about it?
Why won’t asda answer questions on twitter via a private message?
Why won’t asda answer for themseleves on this website?
Why won’t asda answer in private message via this website?

If it was a genuine mistake then it can be put right by refunding customers who were over charged.
The fact asda have nothing to say on the matter, speaks volumes!

I’d have thought a regulator/enforcement body could have spotted that…

12/04/12 @ 14:04
Comment from: A Trading Standards officer [Visitor]
A Trading Standards officer

As I say, changing prices up and down on its own is not a breach of the law. Its a free market after all.

I didn’t spot from your post that they were advertising something on TV for £1 but selling it isntore for £1.88.

In that case it does look questionnable and open to further questionning.

On its own though not necessarily illegal. The alw as it stands not only requires a misleading action but also an effect on the consuemrs decision. How many consuemrs saw the advert and bought the product based o nthe advert?

Bear in mind the consumer still sees the price before they buy it isntore so can still change their mind. I cannot tell if Dairylea was advertised on its own or with a load of other products - but that could be significant.

Unfortunatley just putting something wrong up doesnt necessarily make it illegal.

A high court judge has already said he doubts whether a misleading advert that ONLY encourages someone to go to a shop might not breach the legislation. They would probably have to part with money. Given that the consumer still has the choice to buy the item in the shop - has the advert msiled them into paying more when they know what the price is at the tiem of purchase?

The law is not black and white unfortunatley.

12/04/12 @ 16:58
Comment from: [Member]
Value hunter

Don’t you see the major issue with Hampton?

- TS want/need more resources to do their job
- All regulators and other enforcement bodies want/need more resources to do their job
- Hampton principles “advisory” regulation failings are THE reason why all the fundings cuts are being brought in.

Hampton principles “advisory” regulation are the reason why the FSA completely missed the problems with RBS and other banking near collapses, RBS alone cost the taxpayer £45 billion (leaving taxpyers sat on a projected loss of £25 billion once it’s finally sold) - Not only my view, but the FSA’s own findings (FSA report into RBS and the taxpayer bailout)

I cannot get a straight answer from a single enforcement body/regulator as to why they continue to deny that Hampton has any effect on any part of their remit.
The Hampton principles “advisory” regulation are on the statute book, ie, since 2008, they have been law.

I simply do not believe what I am being told from all official bodies, as what they tell me and the outcomes of their “actions” prove otherwise.

In the case of asda, west yorkshire trading standards told me they have carried out 49 unannounced/random inspections on asda since Jan 2011.
I asked whether this was the store in the area of their head office or across all asdas in the UK?
No reply.
Under the Hampton principles, there can be no inspection without good reason. This is the law.
So if trading standards carried out just one random unannounced inspection of asda without good reason, that trading standards dept would be breaking the law.
OFCOM on orange misleading customers about mid contract price rises, they cannot do anything, as Hampton principles prevent action being taken if it is detrimental to the needs of the business.
The examples across the board of where Hampton principles in law are negating regulation and enforcement are in every area of business, from charities to energy bills, from mobile phone contracts to bank charges, it’s at epidemic proportions.

I simply do not understand why Hampton principles continue to be defended by every single regulator/enforcement body whilst they are being bashed by consumer groups, on forums, in the media, government petitions, etc?
They are having their funding cut because of the failings of the Hampton principles.

It’s got to the point now whereby regulators/enforcement bodies neglect to mention the Hampton principles at all. It’s as if they didn’t exist anymore.

Any business will operate for the maximum profits it can get under the rules it must adhere to, I think everyone agrees with that.
Hampton was written by big business, consulted on by big business, lobbied on by big business and adopted in full by a political party who wanted to court big business.

It changed the face of regulation and enforcement of it, as the UK people knew it, from “enforcement” to “advisory”
In March 2005 when the views of Hampton were published, 70% of it was already in place, it went on to the statute book in 2008.

Only last week we had the stories of royal mail and their maximum postal charges for stamps, after the regulator OFCOM lifted some price controls.
Coincidence that this style of regulation “considering business opportunities” is what is being proposed in Norman Lamb’s consultation at the moment.

14/04/12 @ 04:17
Comment from: A Trading Standards Officer [Visitor]
A Trading Standards Officer

The problem is the principles of Hampton are generally sound - they exist for a reason and that was because regualtors were running around like headless chickens doing inspections wasting time and money. A risk based system is sound. Risk can be based on intelligence or on some form of scoring. Some retailers are ‘higher risk’ than others therefore you shoud focus on them.

We regularly visit supermarkets but they are part of a planned out inspection regime. We do not randomly go and visit supermarkets - that is what Hampton tries to prevent. Instead we prioritise our visits depending on certain criteria. That was we are doing all of our visits ‘with a reason’.

I do not think that the Hampton principles prevent regulators doing their job. If a regulator is not staying on top of things than that is their own failure.

With reards to ASDA and pricing. Doing inspections for pricing on ASDA is pointless unless you are monitoring ever single price every time. It is better to respond to know intelligence - i.e consumer complaints. That way you are actually spending time dealing with something that issuspected or known to be wrong.

If ASDA was subject to inspections every week I do not think we would necessarily spot the pricing concerns you raise - unless we were looking at specific products each time.

With regards to OFCOM, Orange were compliant with unfair contract terms as they had the correct clause in their contracts and rises in line with the RPI are allowed - it is specifically mentioned in the law. Nothing in Hampton prevents action being taken against a business if you KNOW they are doing soemthing wrong. OFCOM cannot do anything against Orange as Orange are not legally doing anything wrong.

In my dept the Hampton principles are embedded in the way we work, we don’t really think of them as a seperate thing. For exmaple, all of our visits are risk based - we don’t just spend time doing random visits as it is a waste of time.

Hampton says we should advise business. Are you saying that is wrong? That we should prosecute or take formal action on every little breach we find? MOST issues are resolved with some advise or informal action.

I think some regulators ‘lack teeth’ not because of Hampton but because they lack power or the backing of the Government. For exmaple the FSA could have been mroe aggresive but the way they operate is dictated by the Government or their managers - that acocunts for how aggresive they are over and above Hampton.

Its funny that you say some reguators lack teeth - we often recieve complaints saying we are too heavy handed!

As I say, Hampton does not stop you taking action against a business if you can justify it.

14/04/12 @ 22:57
Comment from: [Member]
Value hunter

“the principles of Hampton are generally sound - they exist for a reason and that was because regulators were running around like headless chickens doing inspections wasting time and money.”
Hampton principles cannot be “generally sound” as the FSA admitted when RBS almost went bust, costing the taxpayer £45 billions of pounds and left us all facing cuts to benefits, services and funding to trading standards and regulators.. the very thing trading standards are trying to protect.
- Hampton prevented inspection of RBS
- Hampton only required RBS to provide minimal information when the FSA finally woke up to the possible collapse, which by then was too late
- Hampton gave RBS the conditions to bypass regulation, even when the purchase of ABN amro was going through.
The purchase wasn’t stopped, or checked by the FSA, because Hamton principles didn’t require them to!
At the end of the RBS escapade (and don’t forget there are other banks involved in bail outs) the customer loses out, your “saving money” argument falls down, £100 million saving by having Hampton embedded in all regulation/enforcement or (in the case of RBS alone)getting rid of Hampton principles and saving the taxpayer £45 billion?

If regulators/enforcement bodies had spent a bit more time inspecting instead of following Hampton principles, the UK wouldn’t be in the financial mess it’s in today and trading standards wouldn’t be having it’s funding cut and rearranged.

“A risk based system is sound. Risk can be based on intelligence or on some form of scoring”
A risk based system IS sound, but regulators and enforcement bodies (I include ombudsmen in that) are not applying “risk” equally across all businesses and areas of business, which is down to Hampton.
The “scoring” is effectively what is stopping “compliant” businesses from ever losing their compliant status with regulator/enforcement body.
What do Asda have to do to lose their compliant status?

Unless there are thousands of complaints about the same thing, no investigation takes place. Where is the deterrant for the businesses?
Where is the accountability?
The consumer loses out again.
How many instances of misleading on price do people need to complain about before trading standards acts or investigates?
The consumer are being told that we don’t always see what’s going on behind the scenes and businesses are being held to account - this cannot be true.
Hampton is stopping investigation, if trading standards/regulators are being “transparent,” why has not a single one of them provided a single example of how a big “compliant” business has been investigated and action taken?
Perhaps you could enlighten me, by giving me an example of a nationwide business that has lost it’s “compliant” status with trading standards?

“Some retailers are ‘higher risk’ than others therefore you shoud focus on them.”
I completely disagree.

ALL retailers should be acting in accordance with the same laws, not a set of rules for one and a different set of rules for another.
Likewise, ALL businesses should be held to account in the same way.

“I do not think that the Hampton principles prevent regulators doing their job. If a regulator is not staying on top of things than that is their own failure”
Hampton prevents regulators/enforcement bodies investigating a business without good reason.
Trading standards in my area cannot inspect asda without written permission of the primary authority (trading standards in the head office area of asda) because of Hampton.

“With reards to ASDA and pricing. Doing inspections for pricing on ASDA is pointless unless you are monitoring ever single price every time. It is better to respond to know intelligence - i.e consumer complaints. That way you are actually spending time dealing with something that issuspected or known to be wrong.”
But unless thousands of complaints come in about the same thing, trading standards/regulators are not acting.
It shouldn’t depend on consumer focus or which? raising a “super” complaint before an issue is looked at.
With asda this is the case, it takes weeks to get the complaints information together, then the complaint is issued to trading standards/regulator, then they write for permission to inspect or pass information on to primary authority, then an inspection still doesn’t come and asda keep their compliant status.
The complaint is kept on file for a few months, after which it is cleared and so it goes on.
You seem to base your trust on businesses, instead of the consumer.
This is the wrong approach to take.

“With regards to OFCOM, Orange were compliant with unfair contract terms as they had the correct clause in their contracts and rises in line with the RPI are allowed - it is specifically mentioned in the law. Nothing in Hampton prevents action being taken against a business if you KNOW they are doing soemthing wrong. OFCOM cannot do anything against Orange as Orange are not legally doing anything wrong.”
You miss the point entirely.

- Orange introduce a price rising clause in contracts
- OFCOM checks the contract and clears it
- Orange then sell the contracts without mentioning this significant change in terms, ie “this phone package is £20 per month” not mentioning the clause to raise the price (misrepresentation at the point of sale)
- Orange then don’t provide a 28 day written notification period, instead they send a text to a percentage of those effected
- OFCOM receive complaints, but cannot take any action that’s detrimental to the business even if they wanted to because of Hampton, they then give out advice about an internal Orange complaints procedure which is incorrect, as this does not fall within their remit

The customer has to bear the brunt of paying a higher monthly charge, or an unenforceable penalty charge of the remainder of the contract to get out of it.
Small claims wont take the cases as the amounts would be considered too small.
OFCOM wont act as they have already cleared the contracts.
The internal complaints procedure, that protect Orange’s compliant status with regulator can’t act as it’s not in their remit.
The customer gets shafted from all angles!
For your sake, I will not put this on which? forums orange contracts thread, you’d get crucified!

“We regularly visit supermarkets but they are part of a planned out inspection regime. We do not randomly go and visit supermarkets”
Have a word with west yorks trading standards then, the primary authority for asda.
They told me that since January 2011 they have carried out “49 random unannounced inspections of asda”
One of you is wrong, will the public ever get to see which one is incorrect?

Hampton says we should advise business. Are you saying that is wrong?
Yes, I am saying it is wrong. Taxpayer’s do not pay for regulators/enforcement bodies to “advise” business, they pay for a regulation/enforcement bodies that protect customers interests from all businesses which do not act within the law.
If a business is misleading on price then it’s the work of the enforcement body to recover the money that company (compliant or not) has made from not acting within the law.

I bet you don’t get accused of being “heavy handed” by any member of the public, but only from businesses which are out to protect their financial interests at the expense of the customer.

Hampton principles are stopping west yorks trading standards taking action against asda, for advertising a product at a price on TV for 6 days, whilst charging an 88% higher price in their stores and online.

15/04/12 @ 18:05
Comment from: A Trading Standards Officer [Visitor]
A Trading Standards Officer

a) I do not think the FSA issue is down to the Hampton principles - it is more down to the culture the FSA had - a laid back attitude as opposed to an aggressive one - you can still have an aggressive attitude within the Hampton principles.

Some of the failings of the FSA may have been down to a lack of powers, lack of will or the legal responsibility they had at the time.

Obviously I don’t know the ins and outs of what the FSA can and cannot do so I am probably not best placed to comment.

b) We do regularly visit large companies and deal with complaints about them. In my department we respond to complaints because it is more effective to deal with known issues as opposed to trying to find them.

We visit ASDA for certain things - there is no ‘compliant’ status which stops us.

As mentioned, we regularly meet with big business. In my own experience a prosecution has not been necessary.

A quick Google search suggests Bracknell prosecuted Tesco and Surrey prosecuted Southern Energy.

I think the notion of TS regularly inspecting every aspect of a business is a bit of a pipe dream 0the resources required would be massive.

I would say without TS things would be far worse but with TS things will never be perfect. As we face cuts compliance will no doubt go down.

c) When you have the realities of limited resources it doesn’t make sense to treat everyone equally when you know not everyone is equal.

I think you would come around to this if you had to work within the realities of a limited budget.

All businesses ARE subject to the same laws. But they will be approached differently depending on whether they are known trouble makers or by the nature of their business are considered ‘high risk’.

d) that is not the case, you can visit any business you want. You can also prosecute any business you want even if the primary authority disagrees with it.

e) You don’t need ‘thousands’ of complaints! You only need enough complaints to start show a pattern. I think the point is, when something that is happening that is not considered extremely bad the more complaints the better.

I think going back to the other discussion we had – this is why it is good to send everything back to the local authority so at least one department knows everything going on with a business. Having a fragmented local authority based system of trading standards can be flawed at times.

f) Well, we received complaints about this and it was decided that what Orange had done was LEGAL. Unless they have broken the law there is nothing TS can do. There is not a lot more I can say about it to be honest. Obviously OFCOM have different responsibilities from us but from I recall Orange hadn’t really broken OFCOMS own code so there was not a lot OFCOM could do.

From what I remember, taking a small claims case would have been risky because the law was clear – the contracts were not breaching unfair contract terms. I believe even Which? said that.

g) We can both be right. It might just be a case of terminology.

In our department we visit supermarkets routinely for things like weights and measures, food labelling and underage sales. We tend not to for fair trading issues (i.e. pricing). None of these visits are ‘random’ in the sense that they all happen for a specific reason – i.e. the shop hasn’t been visited for a while or we have received complaints about them selling alcohol to 15 year olds.

None of our visits are made by appointment so they are, unannounced and to the business, random. We do not need PA approval to do them.

It is unclear whether WY is referring to visits in their own area or throughout a larger region. Chances are that figure combines visits from many TS departments and they will all have either been responding to complaints or specifically going in looking for something.

I suspect when they say random unannounced visits they mean the visits were so to the business – but I bet WY would have a justification for doing them – if they didn’t then they would probably be breaching the Hampton principles!

f) We recently considered charging businesses for advice but decided against if for a number of reasons. One of them is that we are meant to ensure compliance and charging would create a barrier. If we then prosecuted someone they could argue they would have come to us for advice but couldn’t afford it – something courts would take sympathy for.

You are probably right in saying that TS have changes for a ‘catch the wrongdoers’ to ‘ensure people are complying’ attitude’. The theory is that its cheaper and easier to ensure businesses are complying with the law rather than prosecute them for breaking it.

Politically speaking we also have a responsibility to help business rate payers in our area as they have paid for it. A hard one to argue against. Also bear in mind most big companies can afford their own advice it s the small ones that need it. You can imagine the news stories if TS prosecuted a business but did not even offer them advice when they asked for it.

I can only say again – if ASDA are breaking the law then HP do not stop action being taken. One thing to bear in mind is that the law has a statutory defence. One of the first things ASDA would say is that we have hundreds of thousands of price changes a month and you have only caught us making one ‘mistake’ – this is something the court will have sympathy with and TS know this. So often it is worth waiting to build up a number of complaints/examples before you take action.

I daresay we won’t agree on this issue but an interesting discussion none the less.

15/04/12 @ 19:22
Comment from: [Member]
Value hunter

RBS £45 billion bailout by the taxpayer
John Tiner, FSA Chief Executive, made the following statement (March 2005) on the publication of the Hampton Report on Regulatory Inspection and Enforcement:
“The Hampton report acknowledges the progress the FSA has made in developing and implementing a risk-based approach. We aim to regulate in a proportionate and efficient way and our risk-based approach drives the level of resources we devote to particular firms or industry or consumer-wide issues.
Commentators acknowledge that our risk-based approach is one of the most advanced of any financial regulator. However, we continue to refine and improve it in the light of experience so that it responds to changing risk and market developments”

Then we have callum mccarthy being quite specific about the Hampton principles - FSA chairmans report 2004/2005
“Hampton’s recommendations – the
advantages of integrated regulatory organisations and of risk-based
regulation – are already entrenched in the way the FSA operates.
The FSA is bound by
statutory duties and objectives. Within these, and in the light of the way the
FSA Board decides to discharge these duties, we will push ahead with
policies which are clearly in line with the recommendations”

This changed to:

“The fact that the Supervision Team was largely doing what was expected of it
but was following a deficient supervisory approach, in turn clearly implies
however, that the senior management of the FSA who determined those
resources, processes and practices must have made design decisions which were,
in retrospect, seriously mistaken”
(FSA website - rbs report dec 2011)
There can be no doubt that the FSA were acting and bound by the hampton principles, as these are on the statute book, and not, as you say, “Some of the failings of the FSA may have been down to a lack of powers, lack of will or the legal responsibility they had at the time”

Regarding asda
We visit ASDA for certain things - there is no ‘compliant’ status which stops us - compliant status doesn’t stop you, Hampton does.
Trading standard’s cannot walk into any asda store unannounced and investigate, for example, my complaint.
Hampton requires trading standards to notify the primary authority and obtain permission.
No one is asking that you investigate every little price tag, but when a complaint is raised, unless it has been raised by numbers that show a pattern, its filed (for a time period) and not acted upon, this is wrong.

I’m not saying inspect every part of the business, I’m asking why trading standards are not acting upon complaints, like my second example in 3 months, advertising a price nationally for days, that is false and profiting from it?

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading regulations 2008 gives ample scope for an investigation.

Prohibition of unfair commercial practices:
(4) A commercial practice is unfair if—
(a) it is a misleading action under the provisions of regulation 5;

Misleading actions:
5.—(1) A commercial practice is a misleading action if it satisfies the conditions in either paragraph (2) or paragraph (3).
(2) A commercial practice satisfies the conditions of this paragraph—
(a) if it contains false information and is therefore untruthful in relation to any of the matters in paragraph (4) or if it or its overall presentation in any way deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer in relation to any of the matters in that paragraph, even if the information is factually correct

(4) The matters referred to in paragraph (2)(a) are—
(4)(g) the price or the manner in which the price is calculated;

PART 4
——
ENFORCEMENT
———–
Duty to enforce:

19.—(1) It shall be the duty of every enforcement authority to enforce these Regulations.
(2) Where the enforcement authority is a local weights and measures authority the duty referred to in paragraph (1) shall apply to the enforcement of these Regulations within the authority’s area.

The regulations are quite clear, under section 19, trading standards have a duty to enforce - regardless of number of complaints, etc.

“You don’t need ‘thousands’ of complaints! You only need enough complaints to start show a pattern”
I don’t see anything in the regulations about “enough complaints to show a pattern"?

Why exactly does it take so long and so many resources to establish a complaint is genuine?

One phone call to asda’s head office would establish when they changed the price of dairylea triangles instore and on their website (in this case) to the reduced price, where they could also be asked to forward details of how long the advert had been running for.
This would show clearly, if the supermarket were being honest, that advertising the price for £1 for 6 days before the price lowered instores and online, conveniently during the easter holiday period when customers of a larger number were using asda!

With this information, trading standards could take action as the regulations allow. Open and shut case.

I did notify west yorks trading standards, but they failed to reply via twitter.

One final point on stretched resources - west yorkshire trading standards are that snowed under with work yet today, they have time and resources to spend an entire day sitting at a college alongside barclays staff advising young people on how to manage their money!

18/04/12 @ 20:52
Comment from: A Trading Standards Officer [Visitor]
A Trading Standards Officer

I’ll stcck to TS issues as I am probably not well informed enough on FSA issues.

Trading standard’s cannot walk into any asda store unannounced and investigate, for example, my complaint.

Yes we can. The point is we have a complaint. What the HP says is that you do not just walk into a store for NO reason. In this case we would have a reason. This is exactly why it makes sense to work on complaint data.

Hampton requires trading standards to notify the primary authority and obtain permission.

No it doesn’t. The PA principle is something separate to HP. As regards to this complaint – it would not require an inspection anyway – just a visit to the store (which is not an inspection IMO) to confirm the price and then take it up with head office. An inspection is when you spend time going around the shop and potentially tying up the store staff - this is why they wanted to reduce inspections from a business point of view.

No one is asking that you investigate every little price tag, but when a complaint is raised, unless it has been raised by numbers that show a pattern, its filed (for a time period) and not acted upon, this is wrong.

Yes, but we don’t have resources to deal with every complaint – so what do you suggest we do?

A pricing error on its own is unlikely to generate enough interest for a prosecution. It’s when you notice a pattern or many complaints about a business that you take formal action.

Different TS operate in different ways - so there is no standard answer unfortunatley and its a big issue with the fragmented system we have now.

I’m not saying inspect every part of the business, I’m asking why trading standards are not acting upon complaints, like my second example in 3 months, advertising a price nationally for days, that is false and profiting from it?

This would be down to a number of factors and differ between every TS. You don’t know how many complaints the department is getting every week. Remember that TS are responsible to the Council. They have a duty to ensure the law is being complied with in THEIR OWN area. At the end of the day they have to justify to their residents and Councillors how they spent time and money protecting local interests. That is why many TS departments do not want to get involved in big legal battles that do not involve mainly protecting their own residents. Yes, they may well win a battle for the UK as a whole – but if they could spend the money locally then that is what the Council will want.

Councils are poltical organisations and that means TS is run the way (to some extent) the way Councillors want - not TS staff.

IMO these types of issues need to be dealt with by a national regulator.

The regulations are quite clear, under section 19, trading standards have a duty to enforce - regardless of number of complaints, etc.

Indeed, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. There are some laws that are never enforced.

I don’t see anything in the regulations about “enough complaints to show a pattern"?

The Regulations are enforced depending on how the TS want to do it, and it will depend on their own policy – no doubt influenced by complaints for their area, their resources and what the Councils priorities are.

Why exactly does it take so long and so many resources to establish a complaint is genuine?

It doesn’t – the fact is if it is not being dealt with is because it is not considered a priority or for some other reason.

Bear in mind, it is never as simple as you make out – a simple complaint like that could turn into days of work if ASDA do not play ball or it turns into a battle of attrition. You may need to invite them in for interview which requires 2 staff and many wasted hours and so on.

One final point on stretched resources - west yorkshire trading standards are that snowed under with work yet today, they have time and resources to spend an entire day sitting at a college alongside barclays staff advising young people on how to manage their money!

Probably a priority for their Council – blame it on the Councillors.

As already discussed, there is no doubt TS have branched out into lots of different areas now - for better or worse. Many depts may well be taking on areas of non core TS work in order to contribute more to the Council and justify their existence. My department also has many staff working on no ncore TS stuff - but its arguable that if we didn’t do those things those staff wouldn’t be working for us anyway. It is also arguable that if we didn’t do those extra things our normal TS budget woudl be cut even more as Councillors wouldn’t notice us as much.

19/04/12 @ 21:03
Comment from: [Member]
Value hunter

I’ll stick to TS issues as I am probably not well informed enough on FSA issues
You don’t need to be well informed on FSA issues - their own report into the bailout of RBS confirms that Hampton principles of “risk based” regulation and enforcement completely failed, resulting in a cost to taxpayers of £45 Billion.
The system of regulation was deemed to be “deficient” in its “supervisory approach” - the management of the FSA design processes and practices were “seriously mistaken”

This undermines your entire argument. You state that Hampton principles being used are basically sound - regulator’s report into failings of a bank, say the opposite.
As a direct result of Hampton principles risk based regulation and enforcement, the taxpayer has lost Billions, regulators and enforcement bodies such as trading standards are facing cuts in funding and the need to justify funding, which is in turn costing customers yet more money and is a direct cause of “rip off britain” that I hear/read about on a daily basis.
FACT: TS funding/resources would be more, had the FSA not been tied to using the Hampton principles of risk based regulation, and taxpayers, councils, etc, not had to have £45 billion spent on bailing out RBS.

How can any enforcement body/regulator use the “best use of resources” argument when they are bound by statute law to use Hampton principles that have failed?

One final point on funding/resources.
I would guess the majority of the british public do not realise/know that TS are involved in non core work/branching out into other areas, just to justify their funding to local councils, using up more resources that “TS don’t have” making the problem of funding worse.
Trading standards are there to ensure that the customer is protected from sharp practices of any kind of any business of any size.
If resources are such a problem then would it not make perfect sense for TS to drop non core issues and focus on the job in hand, regardless of the council’s viewpoint?

An inspection is when you spend time going around the shop and potentially tying up the store staff - this is why they wanted to reduce inspections from a business point of view.
If inspections were permitted for no reason (as hampton prevents for compliant businesses) store staff would not be aware the inspection was taking place, until notified after it had taken place, raising minimal costs to the business being inspected.

Trading standards/regulators really believed this?
Business will only operate to the rules they are set.
Deeming them compliant and removing inspections sends out a message that businesses can push the boundaries as much as they like, charge now - correct later, which is what asda have done in my example here.
If they are reported, they simply address the issue and it’s done with, no recompence for the consumer, an extra chunk of profit, and their compliant status remains intact as they have acted as the enforcement body have requested.
If they are not reported, the extra chunk of profit still lands in their accounts, only difference being the extra profit is a greater value.

It always puzzles me, as to why business are so trusted in the eyes of regulators/enforcement bodies, yet customers are left to play second fiddle?
Does the customer not pay via their taxes for TS?
Does TS not have a duty to enforce the regulations protecting customers?
So why are the public so far down the chain?

Has it never occured to regulators/enforcement bodies that businesses “consulted” and supported on Hampton because they did not want them to know what they were upto?
Businesses preferred to act after the event generating extra profits rather than stop it before it happened? (exactly the approach that the new FCA are telling which they will be doing)

TS are responsible to the Council. They have a duty to ensure the law is being complied with in THEIR OWN area. At the end of the day they have to justify to their residents and Councillors how they spent time and money protecting local interests

Which body brought about the “primary authority” rules for multi area businesses?
This is relevant, as before the primary authority, the asda in my town was deemed to be in my locality, now it is not.
Asda are spending more than £4 million this year telling the people here that their store is “local” - ironic as in the eyes of trading standards they are not deemed to be local.
In effect, trading standards are bypassing their own “duty to enforce regulations” by using a primary authority in the head office area.

This is further confusing, when I asked, “The regulations are quite clear, under section 19, trading standards have a duty to enforce - regardless of number of complaints, etc.”
You replied, “Indeed, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. There are some laws that are never enforced.”

So which is it please?
Either there is a duty to enforce or there isn’t?
If “some laws are never enforced” and one of these is the duty to enforce the law, as you stated earlier trading standards have, then why do we bother having these laws in place at all?
It simply does not make any sense!

Bear in mind, it is never as simple as you make out – a simple complaint like that could turn into days of work if ASDA do not play ball or it turns into a battle of attrition. You may need to invite them in for interview which requires 2 staff and many wasted hours and so on
Asda could take it out of the more than £4000 extra profit made from customers by over charging them 88p on each packet of dairylea triangles (16s) that they sold over the 6 days of the Easter holidays.
My guess would be that if it took 10 staff hours to sort out, it would still be less than 10% of the extra profits asda made on this single product line.

Customer’s have resources that need protecting from sharp business practices too.
25/04/12 @ 02:34
Comment from: A Trading Standards Officer [Visitor]
A Trading Standards Officer

I said I would refrain from discussing the FSA because I don’t know the full scope of their responsibilities and powers. There is no doubt there has been a big cock up – whether that is down to Hampton alone is debatable. Financial services companies may well have to be handled in a very different way in comparison to general businesses that TS deal with anyway as there tends to be a small number of them but they are very large companies dealing with complex products.
The vast majority of people have no idea how underfunded some TS departments are and they would probably be very surprised. TS departments have branched out for a number of reasons –some probably by choice and some probably not. Many of the non-core activities are welcomes by members of the public and the councillors.
Said funding is usually given and reserved for those activities. So I don’t think we would necessarily get MORE funding for enforcement work but we can often get extra funding for non-core work that can sometimes subsidise core TS work.
TS are not autonomous from the council – we do exactly what the leaders of the council want – as they report to the councillors. As long as we are in a political organisation like the council we will always be subject to this issue.
TS are small fry compared to most other departments. Some departments are losing in funding 10x our entire budget – so believe me when I say the council will have no problem cutting the TS budget. It’s a political game to suck up to the councillors to make ourselves look good and therefore retain current funding and try to hold off more cuts.
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An inspection usually requires some form of input from staff – depending on where you are. In a small shop you may be able to wander around on your own, but in a factory you may need to be with a staff member at all times.
Clearly if we had enough TS staff to be continually doing inspections all the time then compliance would be a lot better – but we don’t so it’s a moot point. I wouldn’t have a problem doing more inspections.
What I do have problem with is spending time doing inspections when you could be using your resources in other more effective ways.
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The last Government bought in the PA system.
Before (and currently) we had the Home Authority principle for multi area business.
Neither prevents a business in your area being prosecuted by your local TS but both probably lead towards complaints being pushed towards the head office of where the business is based.
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TS enforce plenty of laws (hundreds). Some are more important than others. Some are never or are rarely enforced because we don’t have the resources. How TS decides to enforce a law is up to it.
The ‘duty’ doesn’t mean a whole lot. It just means TS have to make a token effort to enforce the law. It does not set a minimum standard or make the TS do anything. If the law started set minimum standards then chances are the Govt would have to provide a lot more funding to meet the standard – and they don’t want that.
Every law was obviously brought in for a reason but the issue it deals with may not be a priority for enforcement. That does not mean it is not a valid law. Having the law there means it can be used if and when necessary.

=======================
The Courts rarely, in my experience, award costs to the council – so any prosecution of a large supermarket is unlikely to result in the recovery of ALL of the costs in bringing the case.

26/04/12 @ 19:45
Comment from: A Trading Standards Officer [Visitor]
A Trading Standards Officer

Just to add…

There are some laws that some TS don’t enforce too much because they are, shall we say politically sensitive.

One of them is enforcing the requirement for metric weights. You might have seen all the (stupid) backlash about the EU forcing the UK to go metric and a number of very public stories demonising councils. Therefore some TS departments shy away from approaching the subject - not ideal when you consider weights and measures is a foundation of trade and indeed the origin of trading standards.

IMO it should be enforced vigorously, but its not.

Another one is excess packaging. People like to moan about excess packaging on food. There are actually some laws TS can use to reduce packaging - but you can imagine the stories about councils wasting taxpayers money on a court case trying to get Cadburys to reduce the packaging on their easter eggs.

People like to whinge about things like excess packaging but when it comes down it, I bet a lot of people owuldn;t support a lot of resources being spent battling it.

26/04/12 @ 22:23
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