Trading standards are doing nothing about supermarkets!
Supermarkets can ineffect get away with anything that they want. They are not subjected to the same laws/regulations as anyone else with a business. They are a law unto themselves andÂ we are suffering inÂ our pockets because of it.
I've just come off the phone with a trading standards officer, what a complete joke!
I reported Asda in my area and on a national scale for clearly misleading customers in their recent "price drop" campaign.
On January 3rd 2012, Asda post on twitter about their "price drop" campaign, linking to their national blog on the Asda website (No doubt an email campaign as well?) stating that "Warburtons toastie loaf was now only Â£1.15 down from Â£1.35" alongside some other products that were reduced.
I replied that this was not the case at all.
The price in the week of 10th Dec 2011 the price was Â£1.15 and reminded them that they had increased the price to Â£1.30 from the week of the 18th Dec 2011, over the Christmas and New Year period (ie, the previous 14 days).
The new price of Â£1.35 represented another increase of 5p per loaf, both instore and on their website.
I could not find any store that was offering the Â£1.15 "price drop" price advertised.
I reminded them that a higher price must be charged for 28 days before it can be claimed to be "on sale"
Asda did not reply.
24 hours later, I notified Asda again.
Asda staff on twitter did not know which blog post I was referring to, despite these same staff posting on twitter about it and including a direct link to it.
I sent them the links to both their national campaign blog and to their website price checker showing the new higher price of Â£1.35
I received a reply back saying "Thanks - we'll look into it" around teatime on the 4th of January 2012.
That evening, their national blog was changed to drop the claim that warburtons toastie loaf (and some other products advertised in the same paragraph) was part of their "price drop". Nothing from Asda since and the price continues to be the increased price of Â£1.35
I notified Trading standards of this and awaited a call back.
This morning I spoke with my local trading standards office.
I'm told that trading standards have "home authority agreements" with other trading standards departments - which means trading standards in the area of asda's head office would have complaints referred to them for investigation.
This complaint will be referred to them but they may not act upon it, as it's only an individual complaint.
- How many complaints are required before trading standards will act?
* It doesn't go off the number of complaints!
- So breaking the law doesn't mean that a complaint will be acted upon?
* But this is just one complaint... it will be logged. They [trading standards in asda head office area] will be working closely with asda...
- I hear this all the time about how official bodies are "working closely" with companies, it's usually code for "doing nothing," and the logged complaint will be dropped after a short while. Who is working closely for us, the customers?
- We the taxpayer, fund trading standards to monitor supermarkets and other businesses, and to act when the law is broken, as is clearly the case here
* We do monitor the supermarkets!
- So how did trading standards manage to miss a national blog that mentioned a product directly, miss twitter posts of which trading standards is listed as a user of, miss a national advertising campaign, miss that the price hasn't been charged for 28 days at the higher price and now state that it won't act upon clear information given?
* We can't monitor every single price...
- I'm not talking about our local asda having one wrong price, this is a national campaign probably backed up by an email campaign?, a prime time television promotion, promoted via twitter, facebook, etc, and listed on their national website and instores across the UK at an inflated price which doesn't tally with their advertised "price drop"?
Don't you think this is reason enough to act?
* We do not have the time or resources available...
- Resources? It is free, costs are claimed back when the case is put before a court.
* We are going around in circles now...
Always the same response from businesses when they don't have an answer... "we are going around in circles now" - we wouldn't be going around in circles if they provided us with a straight answer!
I left the trading standards officer with one more issue - how could it be, that despite claims that there is no collusion between the big supermarkets, yet for the entire Christmas and New Year period, rival supermarkets across the country had exactly the same opening and closing times?
* There is nothing wrong with having the same store times between supermarkets...
Totally and utterly useless.
If I were to run my business in this way, trading standards would be all over me like a rash.
It would appear that supermarkets can do whatever they like, and that regulation and trading standards are quite happy to do nothing about it what so ever!
If trading standards are not working for us, why do we continue to pay them millions of taxpayer's money each year?
Even more worrying, who will stand up for us, the customer?
At a time when family finances are stretched to the limit, we need to know that trading standards are doing their job correctly and on our behalf, notÂ on behalf of the big four. Clearly, this is another example of a watchdog/regulator not being fit for purpose!
In response to comments received, I have provided information on laws and codes of practice that can be applied, in this case. Where possible, I have also provided links to information online for your reference.
Section 20 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 makes it a criminal offence for a person in the course of his business to give consumers a misleading price indication about goods, services, accommodation (including the sale of new homes) or facilities. It applies however you give the price indication - for example, in a TV or press advertisement, on a website, by email or text message, in a catalogue or leaflet, on notices, price tickets or shelf-edge marking in stores, or if you give it orally, for example on the telephone.
Under section 25 of the Act, the act gives the Secretary of State power to approve codes of practice to give practical guidance to traders. It is addressed to traders and sets out what is good practice to follow in giving price indications in a wide range of different circumstances, so as to avoid giving misleading price indications. Â
It is guidance, rather than mandatory, although it may be taken into account in establishing whether an offence has been committed under the Act.
It is inÂ the business'Â interest to be able to demonstrate that any claimsÂ they have made are accurate and valid. The Act makes it an offence to obstruct a Trading Standards Officer intentionally or to fail (without good cause) to give any assistance or information the Officer may reasonably require to carry out his duties under the Act.
This code of practice deals only with the requirements of Part III of the Consumer Protection Act 1987.
Under section 25 of the Act, the act gives the Secretary of State power to approve codes of practice to give practical guidance to traders. It is addressed to traders and sets out what is good practice to follow in giving price indications in a wide range of different circumstances, so as to avoid giving misleading price indications.
ÂIf a Trading Standards Officer has reasonable grounds to suspect thatÂ a business hasÂ given a misleading price indication, the Act gives the Officer power to requireÂ them to produce any records relating toÂ their business and to seize and detain goods or records which the Officer has reasonable grounds for believing may be required as evidence in court proceedings.
Where a reduced price is claimed then the product should have been offered for sale at the higher price for at least 28 days in the previous 6 months in the same outlet. If the comparison does not meet those criteria then they should provide an explanation which is unambiguous, easily identifiable and clearly legible to the consumer
Where traders make use of advertisements they should have regard to the relevant rules governing misleading advertising via the Advertising Standards Association.
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 - AsÂ published on Trading standards own website
As is clear, there are many grounds for action by trading standards, a convincing argument for ignoring a legitimate complaint about a national campaign I have yet to hear.
No retraction was made by asda, no acknowledgement was published to thousands of people it advertised to that it got it wrong, made an error, etc.
It took almost 2 days before asda simply removed the text claims from their blog post. Nothing more about it was said.
Well there is no law that requires a price to be advertised as a strict minimum limit of 28 days - so you are expecting them to prosecute on a law that doesn’t exist.
Secondly, complaint levels will determine what the issues are that consumer want dealt with.
Finally, public bodies don’t have the money to prosecute on every minor issue and it is discouraged by both the Govt and taxpayers.
As regards the law, I will update the post to show there are laws and guidance given from a secretary of state to protect against this practice. The guidance is relevant as if shown to have not been followed, can be judged to be proof of not following the legislation.
Complaint levels to trading standards should not determine if action is taken or not.
Surely it should depend on how serious any possible breach of law/guidelines is? The number of people complaining about it matters not if it’s one person or five thousand, it should be taken seriously.
This is something I hear a lot of, how are people to take seriously any regulator/enforcement body, which is funded to the tune of Millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money each year don’t forget, if it requires 3000 (for example) identical complaints before an issue is even looked at?
You raise another all too common claim, that most often comes from an enforcement/regulators, that is funding and a lack of.
* I’m a taxpayer and I don’t discourage prosecutions by trading standards, I welcome them. Perhaps a few more would act as a deterrant for businesses and stop sharp practices before they use them?
* Why is funding always an issue?
Trading standards receive a complaint, they look at the case, then decide if they can win it. They then take it to court, if they win, then they will be reimbursed for any costs by the court. This includes solicitors fees, court fees and claims for expenses in putting together the case.
Any fine imposed by the court goes straight back to the government, which covers the government’s (read taxpayers) initial outlay.
Where’s the problem?
* As explained to the trading standards officer I spoke with, this is not “a minor issue”
Asda published a blog - seen by how many thousands?
Asda tweeted a link to this blog - that’s over 29,000 twitter accounts - with additional text about their “price drop” campaign.
Did asda combine this national media advertising campaign with an email campaign? (how many thousands of customers have signed up after using asda’s website?) If so, did the email contain a link to their blog post and in turn advertise the claims put in my post?
A trading standards investigation can force them by law to produce hard copy of any emails sent out and the original website blog post.
I am not complaining about a one off price in one of their stores, this was a national media campaign, possibly backed up an email campaign and over 29,000 twitter accounts received it that I know of.
How many newspapers, magazines, leaflets, radio advertisements, etc, did this go out on?
Thankyou for taking the time to post, all input is welcomed here, but I must say, that I find your approach most disturbing if indeed you are “a trading standards officer”
One further question if you please;
If an independant local shop, with just one single premises is reported to trading standards, would it take the same number of complaints as for a supermarket before trading standards would act?
I have stumbled across your forum again by chance â€“ but I am glad I have. I will respond to each of your points
1) The part of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 that you quote no longer exists. The main legislation dealing with misleading prices is the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
2) Pricing guidance only mean something if the business wants to comply â€“ otherwise they are useless.
3) If you study the 2008 Regulations you will soon find it is not straightforward to prove an offence for misleading pricing, the fact that something is false is not enough on its own be an offence, it must have certain affects on consumers to breach the law. There is also a statutory defence to the offence â€“ which all boils down to a lot of barriers in the way of actually even proving an offence has occurred.
4) I couldnâ€™t comment on whether action should have been taken against ASDA as I am not privy to all the complaints made against them â€“ but there is a benefit to having one TS consider ALL of the issues surrounding the company before deciding on enforcement action. Do not assume that just because the company is not prosecuted that they are not subject to meetings with TS.
5) Whether enforcement action is taken against a business will depend on a huge number of factors specific to each business, such as â€“ number of complaints, how valid each complaint is, the seriousness of the issue, whether the customer has suffered a loss, whether the business has a bad history, whether the business is willing to make changes to comply and so on.
6) In my opinion one of the main reasons prosecutions are not taken is because of the Courts. A prosecution for a pricing issue may sound simple but the whole process can often consume huge amounts of time and money and result in a pointless punishment for the offender. I have personally seen many cases where probably more than a thousand hours of staff time (and huge amounts of money) were spent on cases where the offender got less than 100 hours community service!
7) Prosecutions can cost a lot of money, i.e. tens of thousands, often resulting in pointless fines. Two cases I know of recently have been appealed and will probably cost each TS over 50k in costs â€“ with no real positive outcome at the end of it.
8) Prosecutions I have seen NEVER result in the TS getting all the money back from the offender from a prosecution â€“ either because they cannot afford it or because the Court doesnâ€™t award it. Your post indicates the Council can always get their money back from central Govt but I am not sure this is the case. Even so it wouldnâ€™t come back directly to TS who have to manage their budget.
9) With regards to complaints, when you have more complaints than you have capacity to deal with the logical thing is to prioritise the complaints â€“ such as by looking at the most complained about companies. But as I say, it depends on the circumstances. 1 consumer who has been ripped off by a rogue trader for Â£15,000 will probably get more resources thrown at it than 50 people complaining about ASDA but having suffered no loss.
10) If you have 1000 complaints per 1 TS officer every month you will soon realise not everything can be dealt with. A single complaint may consume 2 days of staff time so you have to prioritise.
11) Different TS will deal with different issues depending on their priorities â€“ this leads to inconsistent practices across the country.
12) My attitude may seem disturbing but it is based on the facts. It may appear that TS can prosecute whoever they want but the fact is there are lots of barriers to a prosecution â€“ money, staff resources, government policy, courts, and legislation and so on. I want the best for the consumer but we are significantly restricted by all of the previous.
13) The Government want light touch regulation, they donâ€™t want us to prosecute, they want us to advise and help where possible.
14) It is also worth pointing out each TS is funded by their own Council, the budget for some may only be a few hundred thousand which would mean multiple prosecutions could wipe out their entire budget very quickly.
Small shops are not treated differently to big ones but it is certainly harder to get a big company to comply with the law if they do not want to because they can hide behind a coporate structure etc.
Thankyou for your reply.
I am not ignoring your points, I am currently reading through the act and its summaries. Will post back/revise when I eventually get to the end of it.
If you have any links to the published “written consultations” that took place with cunsumer groups, enforcement bodies, etc, prior to the act coming into force, I would be grateful. So far they appear to have magically disappeared from public view.
Do you mean the 2008 Regulations? If so, the no I don’t. They came out almost 4 years ago and I guess the consultations go back even farther. The Regulations stem from EU law and copy pretty much what the EU said so there probably wasn’t much scope for a consultation anyway.
The problem with the 2008 Regulations is that they put quite a high level on how bad somehting has to be before it can be anoffence. Just because somehtign is wrong doesnt make it illegal - unfortunatley.
I started reading through the summary notes - written by government at the time - prior to bringing in the EU directive/new consumer regulations.
I also started studying the 2008 regulations alongside this.
All references to the legislation, online and in print, continue to mention the “Hampton principles” - which involves more reading, so time is a factor in my replying to your comments and revising the post.
I must say, your comments have been very helpful so far, in shedding some light on how trading standards works today, this tallies with my own findings (so far). I’ll be back.
I think the Hampton principles are basically - reduce the burden on business from regulators.
It also says regulation should be risk based - that means target buisnesses that appear to be the most dodgy - and that goes hand in hand with targetting those businesses with many complaints. But that is not to say you don’t take action on single complaints.
The main issue facing most regulators these days is lack of staff - so they will have to apportion their resources to the areas where it is needed most.
The 2008 regulations can be hard to get your head around, I had to go on a course which lasted a couple of days and even then it took a while to get my head around it. Not the easiest piece of legislation to get your head around, unfortunatley.
From what I’ve read so far, it appears that the CPR 2008, has replaced many other consumer protection acts, stating [in the summary put before parliament, before the new act became law] that the consumer protection clauses in the old acts, are to be “generally” covered in the new act.
On inspection of the CPR 2008, these assurances given appear to be misleading, as many of the clauses protecting the consumer have been left out.
The “item must have been priced at the higher price for 28 days in the same outlet, before its lower price can be called a sale” clause, is a typical example of missing consumer protection from the new act.
Also, the new act [CPR 2008] includes clauses which state businesses can use in its defence, if they are found to be in breach of the new act.
Would this be a fair representation of the CPR 2008 in your view?
I’m reading the Hampton report as this points to an across the board, same as, way of operating, for all regulators and enforcement bodies, whether it be a regulator or an ombudsman,
This interests me also, as it would explain failures with the financial ombudsman service.
I’m still reading before I make changes to this post, thanks again for your input.
I wasn’t involved in TS before the 2008 regs came in so I am not altogether familiar with the old leigslation.
But yes, before there were lots of rules that said you can do this or you cannot do that. The 2008 Regs take a much more general approach and say you shouldn’t mislead but they rarely give specifics.
Most consumer laws has statutory defences built in, its nothing unusual.
First off Mr Trading standards officer, I want to thank you for your comments, which have been a valuable resource and a welcomed insight into how trading standards operate.
They have led me on a path to connecting differing problems with businesses in different areas, which until your replies, I have not been able to connect.
Extensive reading of legislation, consultation documents, etc, have revealed far more than I believed possible.
This issue and your comments on it, will be leading to a series of posts, in the coming days all will be made clear.
As regards Trading standards not acting against Asda, my post is valid I feel, without saying too much at this stage, Trading standards have their hands tied as you state.
Consecutive governments have seen to this.
The trading standards officer I spoke with informed me that they are able to and carry out occasional “spot checks” on asda and other businesses, this I have since discovered is not the case.
Government legislation, whilst preventing trading standards from acting on my behalf in this case, was consulted on.
Top brass within trading standards could have seen this coming and voiced opposition to it, they have the ear of governments via the LBRO, and were one of the previous government’s “stakeholders” but went along with what was being proposed.
Despite the legitimate and true reasons that you state, the fact remains that trading standards are doing nothing about supermarkets.
Please check back to the site for a series of posts, over the next couple of weeks, which had it not been for your input here, would not have been possible.
I would value your views and input on them.
One thing about frugal ways, is that comments are always anonymous if the poster so wishes.
I take pride in the fact that the site does not do group emails, cannot be bought or linked from by opportunist websites and is not out to create a source of income.
I would however welcome you as an anonymous guest poster on the website.
I have no need to know anything about you personally and if you would like to do any guest posts please scroll down to the bottom of the page and email me directly, I guarantee anonymity. Thanks again.
I see that you are quite critical of Hampton on Twitter.
I have to say that there are many good aspects to Hampton - the bottom line is that you focus your resources on where there are issues and avoid burdening businesses with inspections.
I think what is more important than Hampton is resources. Departments do not have resources to deal with every single business or complaint ,so it makes sense to focus on those issues with a lot of complaints and those businesses that do NOT comply with the law when they are told to.
One of the things the Hampton report helped prevent was unnecessary inspections on businesses - i.e you shouldn;t waste time inspecting a busines sunless there was a reason. Whilst we might love to have the resources to check every business every year we simply don’t. So even if we didn’t have Hapton to osme etent we would (and should) do risk based regulation.
The issue really is that the sanctions we have are took weak or take too long carry out.
A good exmaple is the OFT closing down Yes Loans. I think it has been known for a long time that they were dodgy, but you cannot revoke their licence without giving them a chance to change their ways and they also have an appeals process.
I do not think the Government want to give us pwoers that allow us to close down or fine businesses without having to go through a court (and rightly so I spose!) but until that changes or the Court process becomes quicker then we wil lalways have big delays in sorting stuff out.
I do not think Hampton is stopping effective regulation. What stops effective regulation is number of staff and how aggresive a department is. There is nothing in Hampton that stops you taking on a company that is wrong doing. It is more to do with resources and how aggresive the regulator wants to be and how aggresive they are allowed to be.
Don’t forget that TS are aprt of Councils and subject to political interference. For exmaple, some departments are not allowed to force businesses to use metric emasurements- even though that is the law. The Council doesn’t want the bad press.
It sounds like I am singling out trading standards, but I am not.
Just posted today the first in a series about hampton principles.
Examples of damage being done by the way it has been implemented across the board are too numerous for any website to post about. As will be shown in the next installment.
Lets be clear here - a regulator is in place to make sure that which ever market they work in, that businesses comply with the law.
Since hampton, regulators and enforcement bodies are spending too much time working with business. Even training modules for regulators are to be written by business.
Yes loan company - is a good example.
Their license was taken away and rightly they can appeal.
However, they have been under investigation since 2009.
Is almost three years acceptable for a company to prove they are complying with the law?
Businesses shouldnt be given anytime to put things right. They should be warned and then inspected again within a month, if the same problems continue to happen then remove their credit license.
Hampton has other damaging factors.
In the case with asda I posted here, asda broke the law, bait advertising, misleading pricing, not publishing any corrections to the 29,000 customers that they advertised to via twitter.
Due to Hampton, asda wont even have this recorded as a complaint against them.
It is a single person complaint, not a super complaint from a large customer body, or a media outrage, etc.
Unless thousands register the identical complaint then its swept under the carpet. I fail to see how they can have a status in regulation and enforcement bodies of “compliant” when they are clearly breaking the law?
Even more worrying is the october 2011 consultation paper that the present government plans for regulation/enforcement!
They want to take hampton even further, data sharing between government and corporate businesses. It’s dangerous for want of a better word.
Under the hampton principles, a regulator/enforcement body cannot act against a business if it is “against the needs of the business” in that the action will cost business more money.
In the next post on hampton, just have a look at how the financial ombudsman service is ruling against customers due to the extra costs involved in retraining an FSA training and auditing company, which clearly mis sold PPI, but were saved from paying out a refund because it would have undermined and cost the business had the award gone against them.
“risk based assessment” [using hampton’s principles] is - and I quote - “flawed”
Not my words, the words of the FSA’s own report into the bailout and failings of regulation and enforcement when RBS had to be bailed out to the tune of Â£45 Billion.
This outweighs any “estimated” cost savings included in the hampton report.
If the financial services authority deem hampton principles and risk based assessment do not work and are disastrous, then why on earth do successive governments have them in place across the board?
one can only assume, is to the benefit of corporate business donors to their respective political parties.
Essentially its a question of whether a regulator should be nasty and aggresive and punish failure to comply with the law or assist businesses in complying with the law and only punish those who continualy breach the law.
We are moving towards the latter. For exmaple, we provide lots of free advice to business to make them comply with the law, and at the end of the day that is what we want to achieve and it saves huge amounts of money (that we don’t have) prosecuting every non compliant business.
I would say that we have gone a bit soft on the aggresive side and certainly there is huge variance between TS departments.
I think different regulators need to act in different ways depending on the industry, seriousness of the issue and size of the business.
Hampton doesn’t prevent action being taken against a business breaching the law. The main issue in the exmaple you have given about ASDA is that the law itself doesn’t lend itself to an easy prosecution (or maybe not a prosecution at all).
I don’t think we will ever move back to that aggresive enforcement type of regulation anytime soon. There are lots of good points to ‘workign with’ businesses but there needs to be a balance and I agree YES loans should have been taken down much sooner.I wouldn’t necessarily just blame the OFT. They are subject to all sorts of political pressure as well as legal barriers.
I agree, should we punish business for failing to comply with the law or assist businesses to comply with the law is definately the issue.
But doing the latter - as successive governments want for all regulators and enforcement bodies - is failing the consumer on a huge scale.
Similar to Greece leaving the euro, there is no mechanism for them leaving, in the same way, once a corporate business is deemed to be “compliant” with the regulator, there is no way that it can be removed.
I could issue a valid complaint against asda everyday for a year and it would not lose its “compliant” status and the benefits it receives from trading standards etc, because of it.
Hampton has allowed businesses to achieve a position whereby they can dismiss consumers out of hand.
It may allow for TS to save huge amounts in its budget, but its costing consumers huge amounts instead.
When a person cancels a contract with a phone company and the company continue to take money from their account for 3 months after, that person shouldn’t have to spend hours on the phone and writing letters, waiting months to get their money back.
Many people are living week to week or month to month, this is money they need to live on. How many are being hit with bank charges for going over their overdraft limits because of action like this?
What are enforcement bodies doing to get this money back? or prevent it happening to others?
With regulation and enforcement the way it is now, I would easily recommend that individuals avoid all regulators and enforcement bodies and take their issue straight to their local court if they want a fair, open decision on their issue with a business.
“I think different regulators need to act in different ways depending on the industry, seriousness of the issue and size of the business” - again, I agree.
Sadly with the hampton principles being enforced across the board, it cant happen.
If hamton failed in the regulation of banks (which we are all paying for so didn’t save the people anything) why is it acceptable for energy companies, supermarkets and other big businesses?
Thanks again for your input.
As far as I am aware Hampton doesn’t give a business a green light to do whatever it wants when its classed as complaint.
What Hampton aims to do is prevent unnecessary inspections. For example, if your local butchers is visited this year and is found to be compliant with all laws then Hampton says that that business should not be visited again without some form of risk assessment that justifies it or when it is shown to be non compliant (i.e. on consumer complaints). What Hampton aims to prevent is lots of regulators visiting a business when there is no indication they are doing anything wrong. As I have implied, budgets are more likely to push this forward now anyway as there are not enough officers around to do the necessary visits anyway â€“ so any way of doing less will be welcomed.
Generally speaking is lots of complaints are received about a business, action should be taken, but it depends on the nature of the complaint. Most TS departments work in this way now â€“ so it means that resources are focussed on problem areas. It is not just about complaint numbers though, action can be taken on 1 or 2 complaints where there has been a serious loss to the consumer. Quite often these tend to be doorstep crime incidents when someone has been conned out of Â£10,000.
As I have said previously, just being classed as compliant does NOT prevent enforcement action being taken â€“ but what Hampton probably does mean is that is a company cocks up but then shows willingness to comply with the law then enforcement action would probably be considered heavy handed.
Big companies are difficult to regulate for a whole host of reasons. There are also issues with the way TS is set up that hinders the regulation of these big companies that operate cross border â€“ that is currently being addressed. What we really need is a national regulator â€“ a bit like the OFT but one with a more wider remit to take on cases regularly, which the OFT doesnâ€™t seem to do.
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