What happens when Trading Standards Service Investigate your Business? The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations came into force on May 26, 2008, implementing the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, and apply to all 'business to consumer' transactions and all conduct before, during and after.
The regulations impose a blanket prohibition on all 'unfair commercial practices'. It has been left deliberately wide so as to catch any unfair practices that may be developed in the future. While this broad all-encompassing regulation offers an enhanced level of protection to the consumer, it can prove onerous and problematic for many businesses who are having their trading practices scrutinised by Trading Standards Service (an arms-length body of the Department for the Economy) and they are often left confused and unsure as to where they stand.
Once a consumer has lodged a complaint against a business with Trading Standards, they will investigate the matter and will often seek to formally interview the trader under police-station style conditions (that is, audio recorded and under caution). The trader has the legal right to have their solicitor present during such an interview and the best legal advice is that the trader should not say anything whatsoever to Trading Standards, even so much as reply to a letter, e-mail or phone call from them, without first taking legal advice. If, following investigation, Trading Standards believe that the trader has infringed some aspect of the regulations, they have powers to enforce using the most appropriate means.
These 'means' of enforcement can vary from simple advice/instruction, to a caution, a warning, and, in the most serious cases, a prosecution being brought against the business in the magistrates court.
Over the course of the last five years, the Trading Standards Service has become increasingly active in investigating and pursing complaints lodged with them by consumers in Northern Ireland, and in enforcing the regulations.
If your business is being investigated by the Trading Standards Service for a suspected breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, or any other piece of legislation, it is important that legal advice is obtained as soon as possible.
It may be that an existing policy of commercial insurance will provide legal expenses cover in respect of the legal costs at the investigation/interview stage and/or if further legal action is taken against you.
Worthingtons solicitors has a team of experienced solicitors who specialise in trading standards investigations and will be able to guide you through this process. Contact Brian Moss or Ciaran McConnell in our Belfast office on 028 9043 4015.