Trading Standards Service

Promoting and maintaining fair trading, protecting consumers and enabling reputable businesses to thrive.

Update of actions taken following COVID-19 official advice

The Trading Standards Service (TSS) and Consumerline are concerned above all to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff and all those it engages with, while continuing to do its utmost to help ensure that consumers and businesses are protected from unfair and rogue trading practices.

Range of precautions implemented

TSS has therefore implemented a range of precautions, taking into account official advice, and continues to review and update its protocols as this complex situation develops.

Among other things, TSS and Consumerline are making the following changes:

  • All staff are now working from home if they are able to do so. As well as protecting staff, this will allow TSS and Consumerline to continue to progress cases, make decisions and meet deadlines. TSS has also stopped business travel and travel between its different offices.
  • All meetings are being conducted remotely via videoconferencing or telephone. It is no longer necessary or appropriate, given the official guidance, to hold face-to-face external meetings. People can still make decisions and take part in meetings while working from home, including with people from outside the organisation.
  • It's taking longer than usual for Consumerline to answer calls or reply to emails. We would ask that you leave your name and contact number and we will respond as quickly as possible. Alternatively, you can contact us by email at consumerline@economy-ni.gov.uk
  • Binding statutory deadlines apply to a proportion of the Trading Standards Service’s work and it intends to continue progressing its cases, making decisions and meeting deadlines – helped in part by the adjustments it is already making to things like remote working. Any updates will be communicated to businesses involved in investigations by TSS staff.
  • TSS is reallocating resources to help ensure that the most urgent and the most critical work can be done on time – consequently, this may impact on other services normally carried out by TSS.
  • TSS and Consumerline will not be accepting post or courier deliveries into any of our offices. If documents need to be sent to us during this time, please make contact with the recipient to discuss available alternatives.

TSS and Consumerline continue to monitor official advice and will provide further updates about how we expect to adapt our work in response to the unprecedented challenges now faced by many parts of the economy.

This is a difficult period for everyone – including the businesses, consumers and public authorities we engage with, as well as our own staff. But we are determined to work co-operatively to ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, work can carry on for the benefit of consumers and businesses.

How TSS and Consumerline is working may be changing in some ways, but our role remains the same: promoting and maintaining fair trading, protecting consumers and enabling reputable businesses to thrive.

What Trading Standards Service does

The Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service is committed to providing a fair and impartial service.

At times the law requires us to tell you what you must and must not do. However we prefer to secure compliance through advice and help. We aim to provide a high-quality service to the Northern Ireland business community.

For business advice regarding Trading Standards legislation, you should visit nibusinessinfo.co.uk.

For advice on how to ensure you comply with Consumer Protection legislation you should visit the Business Companion website. This provides comprehensive guidance for businesses and individuals that need to know about trading standards and consumer protection legislation. Although the references are to the law in England, the law also applies in Northern Ireland.

If you need further advice, or if you want to discuss a specific issue, please contact us on 0300 123 6262, or e-mail tss@economy-ni.gov.uk

The main areas we deal with

The Trading Standards Service is responsible for enforcing over 160 pieces of legislation, covering a wide breadth of sectors and practices. The main areas we deal with are:

  • weights and measures - to ensure that all goods sold by weight, volume, length or area are accurately measured
  • scams and e-crime – ensuring that the most vulnerable in society are protected from the most unscrupulous and fraudulent practices
  • doorstep crime and home improvement services – unscrupulous traders cold calling at your door and claiming that work needs doing to your home or garden unnecessarily. Poor workmanship and overcharging in respect of home improvement services.
  • pricing – price marking and misleading price indications - it is illegal for a trader to give consumers price indications which are misleading or to make price comparisons which are not genuine, fair and meaningful. In general, traders must display the price of all goods which they offer for sale. Also, large shops must show the unit price of goods which are prepacked in fixed quantities
  • false or misleading descriptions of goods and services - to ensure that goods and services are accurately described when they are offered for sale
  • counterfeit goods - the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service is responsible for enforcing the Trade Marks Act 1994, which prohibits the unauthorised use of trademarks as well as the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
  • used cars - misleading claims about the history of second-hand vehicles i.e. clocked cars, accident damage, specification.
  • hallmarking of precious metals - most gold, silver and platinum jewellery must be hallmarked by one of the Assay Offices
  • consumer credit - Traders who offer credit to consumers must comply with the appropriate regulations
  • estate agency and the misdescription of property - to ensure that estate agents act in the best interests of their clients, and that both buyers and sellers are treated honestly, fairly and promptly
  • unfair contract terms – contract terms are not binding on consumers unless they are fair.
  • travel - legislation controls the sale of timeshare, while package travel regulations seek to protect consumers in the event of holiday companies ceasing to trade
  • most complained about traders - businesses which persistently trade unfairly - the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service investigates complaints about illegal trading practices and trading standard laws.

What we can't do

Investigate every complaint we receive

We are not able to investigate or take action on all matters reported to us. Limited resources make it essential for us to prioritise, tackling the issues which cause the most detriment to Northern Ireland businesses and consumers:

The Trading Standards Service provides consumer advice via Consumerline, its consumer advice helpline. Consumerline answers all consumer complaints and business enquiries on behalf of the Trading Standards Service in Northern Ireland. We continue to receive records of each omplaint dealt with by Consumerline as this allows us to monitor arising issues and intervene in cases that meet our ‘priority’ criteria.

If you need consumer advice or would like to report an issue, or your business is in dispute with a consumer and you need some advice, you should contact Consumerline on 0300 123 62 62, 9am to 5pm Monday to Thursday and 9am to 4pm on a Friday, or use the online form:

Obtain redress on your behalf

Consumerline can provide you with comprehensive, professional advice on your rights and how to obtain appropriate redress. If the business is not co-operative, then in some cases it may require you to take the matter to a civil court. We are not able to obtain redress on your behalf and we are not able to pursue cases in the civil courts for you.

Provide feedback on what you have reported to us

After you have reported a matter to Consumerline we will only make contact with you if we need further information or cooperation. We will only provide feedback if formal action has been taken to deal with the matter you reported – such as the case being taken to court. Even if Trading Standards doesn't contact you, we might use your evidence to take action against the business in the future. For example, if other people make complaints about the same business. 

Trading Standards will endeavour to keep you up to date with what is happening but it is not always possible to do this. This is not because we don’t want to tell you about the outcome of case, it is because the law, in most cases, does not allow us to do this or it may interfere with our operations activities.

What we can do

Every year we receive thousands of consumer complaints through Consumerline and from other agencies. Resource constraints mean we have to prioritise the most serious cases for intervention and use the others to help us to plan our prevention work. A number of factors are used to determine how we prioritise each case:

We have a wide range of options available to us in terms of intervention, from writing to a business to advise them of their legal obligations, issuing Cautions and seeking injunctions to full prosecution. We have a duty to ensure in every case that the action taken is proportionate to the matter we are tackling. When we investigate a matter we must be sure that there is enough evidence to use in court and that the investigation would be in the public interest.

We can provide advice to businesses, helping them to comply with the law, and also carry out inspections to ensure wider legal compliance. We use risk rating and intelligence to determine which businesses we inspect.  

We will use our statutory enforcement powers to increase compliance with consumer protection law, and take enforcement action where appropriate, in line with our priorities. 

To achieve this aim we will undertake the following:

  • identify and investigate potential breaches of the law and take appropriate compliance and enforcement actions
  • amplify all compliance and enforcement outcomes to raise awareness of the law
  • develop a programme of business-focussed compliance activities aimed at increasing knowledge of consumer protection law.
  • work closely with enforcement agencies including PSNI, district councils, Competition and Markets Authority, Financial Conduct Authority, Public Prosecution Service and HMRC
  • continuously improve the way we work in light of lessons learned from all enforcement activities
  • commit to transparency in our compliance and enforcement activities, providing advice on legislation and explaining the basis for our decisions
  • raise awareness to encourage complaints that will lead to potential enforcement actions
  • continuously assess all our investigative and enforcement procedures to ensure ongoing adherence to best practice and legal requirements.

Trading Standards enforcement

Informal action – advice

Minor infringements are generally dealt with by means of informal action and would involve the officer drawing the matter to the attention of the individual or to the owner of the business or to an appropriate employee, and giving appropriate guidance. Where appropriate, a report will be left at the time of the visit or contained within a written letter of advice or warning. Rarely will a minor or technical infringement result in more formal action being taken, particularly if it is capable of immediate rectification. A follow-up visit will usually be made, where circumstances demand, to ensure minor matters have been rectified. However, if previous advice has been ignored, or if there is another factor that warrants a formal response, TSS may choose to treat the incident in a formal way.

Formal action – Statutory Notice

Depending on the powers of the officer under the applicable legislation, and the remedy that best protects the public from harm, the officer may issue a statutory notice requiring that certain actions should be carried out within a given timescale. It is the responsibility of the recipient to comply with the notice. Failure to do so may result in legal action being taken e.g. pricing or metrology breaches.

Formal action – investigation, warning, caution and prosecution

In other cases we will conduct an investigation in order to decide the appropriate course of action.

We give suspected offenders the opportunity to give an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the commission of any alleged offence including, where provided for by the legislation, of any statutory defences. Officers may decide to do this by inviting the suspect to attend a formal interview.

Any formal interview about offences will be conducted having regard to the Codes issued under the Police and Criminal Evidence (NI) Order 1989 (PACE) and an appropriate record will be made. Suspected offenders will be given the opportunity to seek legal advice prior to such an interview taking place and may be accompanied by a legal representative at the interview itself.

Calibration and Metrology Services

Northern Ireland Trading Standards operate a Mass Calibration Service. We are a UKAS accredited calibration laboratory (No. 0338) for the calibration of mass, in the range 1mg to 25kg to M1, F2 and F1 standard.

Calibration takes place in our laboratory where the environmental conditions are strictly controlled. Each item submitted for calibration is placed in the laboratory 24 hours prior to testing in order to acclimatise to these conditions. Once calibrated each item is returned with a fully traceable UKAS calibration certificate acceptable for most quality systems.

We also offer a weight adjustment service for those weights that have fallen outside of the permitted tolerances as a result of regular use. This can be done on most weights for a small fee (information on current fees can be found below).

In order to provide an efficient and effective service we require all calibrations to be booked in at least 14 days in advance. We will endeavour to complete calibration of your weights and have them ready for collection within 10 working days of being delivered. However, in some instances depending on the quantity and standard of weights, this may take longer. We will always attempt to provide you with an accurate completion date during the booking in process. 

In addition, we also have the facilities to test weights up to 1000kg. If you require this service, please contact us as early as possible to get booked in.

Metrology Services

Notified Body

We are a Notified Body and can conduct Initial verifications on Liquid Fuel Measuring Instruments, Road Tanker Meter Measuring Systems and Non-Automatic Weighing Instruments.

Hire of Weighbridge test units

We operate a weighbridge test unit which is available to hire. Our weighbridge test unit can carry a total test load of 20,000kg in weights, all of which are calibrated by our UKAS accredited laboratory. Our staff are trained and experienced in the safe operation of the test unit. Please contact us to discuss your requirements.

Fees

Details of fees/charges are at:

Contact

Department for the Economy
Trading Standards Service
176 Newtownbreda Road
Belfast
BT8 6QS

Telephone: 0300 123 62 62

For calibration services, email: calibration@economy-ni.gov.uk

Primary Authority

The Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service (NITSS) currently acts in the role of Primary Authority for Moy Park Ltd in relation to Metrology and Fair Trading functions.

All enquiries relating to the Primary Authority Agreement should be addressed to:

Trading Standards Service
Department for the Economy
Consumer Affairs Building
176 Newtownbreda Road Belfast
BT8 6QS

Telephone: 0300 123 6262
E-mail: tss@economy-ni.gov.uk

Our Enforcement Policy

This Enforcement Policy has been published in order to explain what happens when we find infringements of Trading Standards law.  It has also been designed to help promote an efficient and effective approach to enforcement, - one that will improve regulatory outcomes without imposing unnecessary burdens on businesses.  This is in accordance with the good practice principles set out in the Enforcement Concordat and the Regulator’s Compliance Code.

Make a complaint against us

The DfE complaints procedure explains how you can make a complaint regarding the quality of our services, what standards you can expect when you do so, and what you can do if you are still dissatisfied.

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