Trading Standards Enforcement Policy from 10 February 2014
This Enforcement Policy explains our approach to regulatory activity, how we expect to deal with businesses and what happens when we find infringements of Trading Standards law. For enforcement to be fair it is important that we are open and clear about the basis on which we take action.
How we focus our service
Hampshire County Council is committed to maintaining fair trading for all businesses and to protecting the public, particularly those who may be especially vulnerable. The Trading Standards Service covers the following areas of law:
- Food quality, composition and labelling
- Environmental Safety eg petroleum, explosives and packaging
- Sales of age-restricted products, alcohol licensing and tobacco control
- Product Safety
- Fraud and Deceptive Trading Practices
- Animal Health and Welfare on agricultural premises
- Animal Feed quality, composition and labelling
- Weights and Measures
We always strive to use advice as the main method of ensuring that businesses comply with legal requirements. We inspect business premises, test products and equipment, and make test purchases where appropriate, give talks to consumer and business groups, and publish a range of information on the web, in the media and in leaflets.
When we receive an enquiry we aim to respond within 5 working days. Complex matters may take longer and we will provide an update in 5 working days and give a full response within 20 working days. For full details of our service standards see our Customer Charter.
We believe that prevention is better than cure. The Service operates a 'Buy With Confidence' scheme that is intended to raise standards of fair trading by approving local businesses and recommending them to consumers.
How we structure our regulatory activities
This enforcement policy helps to promote efficient and effective approaches to regulatory inspection and enforcement which improve regulatory outcomes without imposing unnecessary burdens. This is in accordance with the Regulators' Code.
In certain instances we may conclude that a provision in the Code is either not relevant or is outweighed by another provision. We will ensure that any decision to depart from the Code will be properly reasoned, based on material evidence and documented.
In planning and carrying out our activities we always have regard to the principles in the Regulators' Code. It should be noted that our officers may need to move outside the principles of the Code where individual operational circumstances necessitate them doing so.
We also subscribe to the Enforcement Concordat where the legislation we enforce is not covered by the Regulators Code. For businesses, our regulatory activities are focussed upon allowing and encouraging their economic progress. As part of that we will:
- Keep our regulatory activities and interventions under review to reduce their burden on businesses, especially smaller ones, as much as possible
- Risk assess our regulatory activities so as to target our resources where they will have greatest effect
- Carry out inspections only where there is a reason for doing so, for example, as a response to intelligence or as part of our risk assessment process
- Provide advice when it is requested by businesses and do so proactively where this is practicable. In some instances we may need to make a charge when a business requests advice but we will always advise of this in advance
- Develop 'home authority' and/or 'primary authority' relationships with businesses based within Hampshire to provide advice and support
- Only require data and information from businesses when it is strictly necessary for us in carrying out our regulatory activities
- Consult with businesses in designing, reviewing and improving our risk methodology.
What you can expect of our staff
You are entitled to expect our staff:
- To be courteous and helpful
- To identify themselves by name and produce identification if requested
- To provide a contact point for any further dealings
- To give clear and simple advice
- To confirm advice in writing on request, explaining the action required and over what time-scale
- To clearly distinguish between what you must do to comply with the law and what is recommended as best practice
- To minimise the cost of compliance by requiring proportionate action
- To give you reasonable time to comply (unless immediate action is necessary in the interest of health and safety or to prevent evidence being lost)
- To notify you if the matter is to be reported for legal proceedings.
- To advise you of the procedure for making a complaint or representations in cases of dispute about our actions
- To maintain confidentiality except where we have a legal obligation to disclose information.
Action we can take if the law is broken
When we suspect that there may have ben an infringement of the law we will usually have to make some enquiries but, in the majority of cases, we can conclude the matter quickly by giving advice.
Where immediate enforcement action is necessary an explanation will be given at the time and confirmed in writing, usually within 5 working days, and always within 10 working days.
There will always be serious cases where we have to make more extensive enquiries and which can only be effectively concluded in a formal enforcement manner. When investigating the most serious offences we may also make financial enquires as the courts could order the confiscation of assets where these are considered to be the proceeds of crime.
Dependant upon the provisions of the particular legislation, we are able to take a variety of actions, including:
- Verbal or written warning
- Penalty Notice for Disorder
- Indirect action, such as working with partner organisations to improve levels of compliance.
- Suspension, seizure or voluntary surrender of goods and instigating product recalls
- Improvement Notice
- Simple Caution
- Enforcement Order
- An Assurance or Undertaking which is legally binding
Some of the above actions provide for appeal and review processes before or following their imposition. When this is the case the affected business will receive full written details of their rights. Where English is not the first language of the representative of the business, we may be able to provide translations of our documents.
In some instances we share an enforcement role with other agencies eg environmental health departments for food matters; police for under-age sales of alcohol etc. and in such situations we will share information on our activities with our partner organisations.
How we decide on legal action
Before any enforcement action is taken there will usually be opportunity for businesses to discuss the case with us. However, when we are considering a prosecution this will be at a formal interview. We will always observe the strict legal codes on the way investigations are to be conducted and legal action taken.
Where the circumstances would normally justify prosecution but there has been a clear admission of the offence, we will consider offering the offender an option of signing a Simple Caution. However, we would need to be sure that this would be in the community interest or likely to deter future offending and it would not normally be appropriate in cases involving multiple serious offences, or of financial abuse of vulnerable people. A Simple Caution is an alternative to prosecution which can be referred to in court should the business re-offend.
To ensure any action we take is proportionate and targeted only at cases in which action is needed, a number of factors will be taken into consideration, including
- The seriousness of any alleged offence
- The value involved
- The age and vulnerability of consumers affected
- The previous history of the business
- Any statutory defence available
- Action taken to prevent any recurrence
- Any explanation offered and, as far as the law allows, the circumstances and attitude of the business towards compliance and the investigators.
- What course of action will best serve the community interest
Prosecution is much more likely in cases which involve
- serious offences affecting the health, safety or morality of the public,
- serious offences relating to animal health and welfare,
- serious offences involving fraud
- continued or gross negligence, obstruction or wilful non-compliance,
- deceptive or dishonest claims or actions,
- targeting or financial abuse of vulnerable people,
- breaking statutory prohibitions or court orders,
- where national policies indicates such course of action, or
- where the community interest is detrimentally affected to a significant extent.
The decision to prosecute is always taken by a senior manager who has had no direct involvement in the investigation and in accordance with:
- all relevant statutory requirements and codes, e.g. the Code for Crown Prosecutors
- all other best practice guides, and
- without any unnecessary delay
Good Enforcement Practice
As with many other regulators, Hampshire County Council has a responsibility to comply with the Regulators' Code. In addition Hampshire County Council has signed the Government's Enforcement Concordat to show its commitment to good enforcement practices in those areas of activity to which the Concordat applies.
We endeavour to serve the people of Hampshire by working with the business community to ensure fair and safe trading and a thriving economy. We take particular care to help small businesses and voluntary and community organisations meet legal obligations with minimal expense.
All our staff are bound by this policy to ensure we take a consistent approach to our work.
In carrying out our work, we are accountable to the members of Hampshire County Council who are democratically elected to represent the people of Hampshire.
If you have any comments on this Enforcement Policy or would like further information then please contact us.
tel 01962 833620
Our website can be found at: www3.hants.gov.uk/tradingstandards
This policy is available in large print and alternative languages on request.