Trading Standards Service inspections reveal short weight bags of coal

Date published: 12 January 2023

An investigation by the Department for the Economy’s Trading Standards Service (TSS) has found that short-weight bags of coal may be contributing to the cost-of-living crisis.

Trading Standards Service has found that short-weight bags of coal may be contributing to the cost-of-living crisis.
Trading Standards Service has found that short-weight bags of coal may be contributing to the cost-of-living crisis.

Over the past three months TSS officers have visited 35 retail premises across Northern Ireland to check the weight of both 20kg and 25kg bags of coal to ensure consumers are getting what they pay for. A total of 1,107 bags of coal were checked from various packers and officers found that 103 (9.3%) were short weight.

With the average deficiency in each short weight bag being 1kg, this equates to consumer detriment of up to 87 pence per bag. The largest deficiency of 2.7kg was found in a 20kg bag resulting in a £2.37 detriment to the consumer.

Although the majority of bags did not cause concern, in total, the bags of coal from ten different packers were found to be short weight. TSS has taken steps to advise those businesses responsible for placing the short-weight products on the market and will conduct further inspections in the coming months. Any trader found to be selling short-weight bags of coal may face enforcement action.

Judith Gough, Deputy Chief Trading Standards Inspector, said:

“Given the growing demand for coal across Northern Ireland and the continuing cost of living crisis, it is imperative that consumers do not get short changed. Many households on low incomes who have no alternative heating source will be alarmed to hear that almost one in ten bags of coal inspected by TSS were short weight.

“Measurement is at the heart of fair trading and is a core issue for TSS. These inspections help to ensure that businesses are weighing and measuring accurately, and consumers are getting the right quantity of goods. With the current cost-of-living crisis, it is even more important that the processes and systems that should be in place are working properly, and consumers are getting what they pay for. TSS will continue to work closely with coal packers across the country to make sure that any issues of short weight are eradicated.”

If a consumer has a complaint about short-weight goods or you wish to seek advice on any other consumer related matter they should contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262 or email:

Notes to editors: 

1. Coal inspections were conducted at retail premises in Belfast, Lisburn, Dungannon, Crumlin, Ballymena, Enniskillen, Newry, Dungannon, Derry and Strabane.

2. The Weights and Measures (Packaged Goods) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 places a duty on a packer to ensure all pre-packed goods are made up in such a way to comply with the packers’ rules.

3. The retail visits highlighted two problems in terms of packing coal:

  • Coal is a desiccating product and loses weight over time. A desiccating product is any goods made up in a package that lose weight or volume solely through evaporation when the package is made up. This needs to be taken into consideration by the packer when packing.
  • Stock rotation at retail level is vital. In shops, fuel depots, petrol station forecourts etc, bags of coal are generally exposed to the elements and therefore are likely over time to lose weight through desiccation, so stock rotation must occur at these premises to prevent short weight being sold to consumers.

4. Short weight in this context means packages less than twice the allowed error deficient of the marked pack weight.

5. Weights and Measures is the oldest form of consumer protection and regulates the way that almost all goods are weighed and measured. The metrological system not only ensures that consumers get what they pay for but also that businesses are able to trade on a level marketplace, not only within the UK but internationally.

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8. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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