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Fair Trading

Bedford Borough Environmental Health & Trading Standards Service is adopting an ‘intelligence-led’ approach to enforcement.  The aim is to ensure our limited resources are used to the best effect in protecting the trading environment for the benefit of the whole community.  All sources of information, but in particular complaints, are used to identify trends and problem traders and to determine where our future activities should be focused.  If you have information that could help the service please report it to us either via email on business@bedford.gov.uk or by telephone on 01234 718099.

 

The  Office of Fair Trading (OFT) plays a leading role in helping consumers understand their rights and protecting consumer interests throughout the UK, while ensuring that business practices are fair and competitive.  

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Advertising 

Business scams

Counterfeit goods

Description of goods

Estate agents

Issuing contracts

Mileage fraud / unroadworthy vehicles

Mock auctions

Offering credit

Package holidays

Prices to be displayed

Rogue traders

Selling online or at a distance 

Sunday trading

Trader Identity

 

Advertising

Nearly every business advertises at some point - whether in newspapers or magazines, in brochures and leaflets, or on the internet. However you advertise, the claims you make must comply with certain regulations. This also applies to direct mail.

Two codes of practice, drawn up by the committees of advertising practice, cover broadcast and non-broadcast advertising. Follow these codes and it's unlikely that your advertisements will be open to legal objection.

The codes of practice are enforced mainly by the Advertising Standards Authority, and the laws on advertising by Local Authority Trading Standards Services. Adverts on TV and radio are regulated by the Office of Communications (Ofcom).

For more information on advertising regulations and how they may affect you, please go to the OFT website (new window).

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Business scams

There are dozens of types of scams circulating at any one time. They offer a chance to invest in an "exciting new money-making scheme", inform you of an "unexpected win on a prize draw or lottery", and frequently ask you for your bank account details in order to "process your winnings" to you. The scams we see are aimed at businesses as well as consumers. 

With email and text messages, it is possible to send unsolicited offers to thousands of people quickly and relatively cheaply. If only a tiny fraction of the people reply, huge profits can still be made by these scammers.

Professionally written letters, faxes and emails can be very convincing, but in our experience, which ever method these promotions are distributed, they are still a dishonest attempt to trap you into parting with your money. Our advice to any consumers or businesses is if something that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you’re concerned about protecting your personal details or wish to check whether a specific company is complying with the Data Protection laws then go to the  Information Commissioner’s Office (new window) website for further information.

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Counterfeit goods

Counterfeit (fake) goods is big business, supported by terrorist organisations. It is estimated the cost to industry in the UK is £150 million pounds a year and rising.

Everything can be counterfeited – here are a few examples

  • Branded clothing
  • Spirits
  • Cigarettes
  • Toys
  • Computer games
  • DVD’s
  • CD’s
  • Car parts

 

Counterfeit goods cost less than the real thing, are always inferior and therefore may be less durable, unsafe or downright dangerous because they haven't undergone the rigorous testing that manufacturers apply to their products to ensure that they are safe.

Even products that are unlikely to cause injury may be disappointing to say the least.  Is it such a bargain if it won't work properly or breaks after a few uses?

"It is not always easy to spot the fakes but if it seems to good to be true then it probably is!"

In the UK, HM Revenue & Customs is responsible for intercepting counterfeits at the frontiers - at ports, airports and the postal hub at Coventry.  The new UK Border Agency will bring together immigration, VAT and trade controls at the frontiers and will in future act on behalf of Customs to enforce anti-counterfeiting legislation.

Trading standards enforce the criminal trade mark laws within the UK. 

For more information on counterfeit goods and intellectual property crime and the ways they impact your life, please visit the Anti-Counterfeiting Group website.  (new window)

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Description of goods

European and British law says that all products sold in this country must be labelled correctly and provide enough information for people to know exactly what they are buying. Product names and labels must not be misleading and certain food labels have to correctly specify weights, expiry dates, ingredients and nutritional content.

For more information of accurately describing goods and services, please visit the Trading Standards Institute website. (new window)

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Estate agents

The OFT supervises the working and enforcement of the Estate Agents Act and if you are engaged in estate agency work you have to comply with the Act. The OFT can take action against those who do not comply—they can warn them about their behaviour or ban them from estate agency work.  

To find out more, see the Estate Agents Act area of the OFT website.

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Issuing contracts

You have a legal duty not to use unfair terms in the contracts you have with consumers.

Consumers can complain about unfair contract terms to their Trading Standards Services, the OFT and other qualifying organisations (the utility, rail and communication regulators, the Information Commissioner, Which? and the Financial Services Authority).

To find out more about the unfair contract terms legislation, including guidance specific to particular kinds of businesses that explains which types of term are unfair and which are exempt, see the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations area (opens in new window) of the Office of Fair Trading website.

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Mileage Fraud and Unroadworthy Vehicles

Mileage fraud

Low mileage vehicles tend to be worth more than higher mileage ones, consequently mileage fraud is widespread.

Vehicle odometers measures and indicate the mileage which a vehicle has travelled and that indication constitutes a ‘trade description’.

It follows that the alteration of vehicle odometers, commonly known as ’clocking’, and the supply etc. of ‘clocked ‘ vehicles is an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act.

Any trader, who alters any mileage reading, whether from a higher to a lower figure or to zero, commits an offence.

A trader who purchases a car which has a false mileage reading and places it on his forecourt for sale without taking all reasonable precautions commits an offence. Positive action is required to avoid committing such an offence.

  • never alter an odometer reading
  • if it is necessary to change a speedometer/odometer unit, you must inform customers what you have done and of the true mileage.
  • if you wish to make any use of the recorded mileage you must check the history of a car before offering it for sale.
  • keep full and comprehensive records.
  • if you are not sure the mileage is true, use a disclaimer notice and make sure it remains in position.

 

Unroadworthy vehicles

The Road Traffic Act 1988 applies to anyone who supplies a motor vehicle be it privately or in the course of a business.

IF YOU SELL A VEHICLE WHICH IS UNROADWORTHY, THE SALE IS ILLEGAL WHETHER IT TAKES PLACE AT A PRIVATE HOUSE, A GARAGE, OR A MOTOR AUCTION.

A vehicle is unroadworthy if:

its brakes, steering, tyres, construction or equipment do not meet statutory requirements

OR

its use on the road would present a danger of injury to any person,

OR

it is dangerous due to structural corrosion.

If you have any doubts about whether a vehicle is unroadworthy, you must have the vehicle examined by a competent person. Do not offer the vehicle for sale until is has been checked.

Having a current MOT certificate does not prove that a vehicle is roadworthy.

If you are in trade and supply unroadworthy vehicles, you must ensure that you take all reasonable steps to inform prospective customers that they must not use the vehicle on the road.

  • Make it clear in advertisements that the vehicle is unroadworthy and is being sold only for spare parts or repair.
  • Display the vehicle separately and mark it 'UNROADWORTHY'.
  • Ask the buyer to sign an acknowledgement that the care is unroadworthy, itemise all known faults, and mark that the car is being sold for 'spares or repair'. Give the buyer a copy.
  • Write 'UNROADWORTHY--SOLD FOR SPARES OR REPAIRS--NOT FOR USE ON THE ROAD' across the sales invoice. Give the buyer a copy.
  • Do not hand over any paperwork which may suggest that the vehicle is roadworthy such as a current MOT certificate or tax disc.
  • Make sure that the buyer does not drive away an unroadworthy vehicle. It should be collected or delivered on a trailer.

 

You should still follow these guidelines as far as possible if you are not in business. If you supply an unroadworthy vehicle, you could be prosecuted by Trading Standards.

For more information on vehicle fraud, sales or repair, please contact the Trading Standards Service.

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Mock auctions

There are sales known as 'mock auctions' which appear to be auctions but are in reality conducted in a way to entice purchasers to pay large sums of money for unknown goods. They are often advertised through leaflets and flyers; held in public rooms rather than retail premises where the sales room doors locked and goods are handed out wrapped tightly in black plastic bags. It is hard to tell what you actually bought until you have left - when it is often too late to complain.

It is an offence to conduct an auction where the sale of goods is by competitive bidding and where the right to bid is restricted to persons who have bought one or more articles. Trading Standards may be able to take action to prevent a sale taking place, or to prosecute the traders concerned.

For more information on mock auctions, please contact the Trading Standards Service.

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Offering credit

If a business offers credit or lends money to consumers, or allows customers time to pay for goods and services, it must be licensed with the Consumer Credit Licensing Bureau of the Office of Fair Trading.

The following types of business must be licensed with the Office of Fair Trading:

  • consumer credit
  • consumer hire
  • debit adjusting and debt counselling
  • debt collecting
  • credit reference agencies
  • canvassing credit off trade premises

 

The Office of Fair Trading holds a public record of all licensed traders and of all those who have applied for a licence. They can provide details to the public about its licensed businesses, such as the type of activities they cover, their authorised trading names and main business address.

To find out more about your duties as a credit provider, including guidance on who needs a licence and how to apply for one, see the consumer credit licensing (new window) area of the Office of Fair Trading website.

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Consumer Credit Act 2006

This Act reforms the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and will change the licensing system operated by the OFT. Guidance and information on the changes is available here (new window).

The act considerably changes the consumer credit market - some of these changes include strengthening credit licence rules, giving the Office of Fair Trading the power to fine moneylenders and make surprise raids on debt companies, and making small print bigger on adverts for financial products.

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Money Laundering Regulations 2007

From 15 December 2007, the OFT will supervise those businesses with a Category A consumer credit licence, under the Money Laundering Regulations. The OFT has published guidance to help you comply with your obligations under the regulations.

Complete information and forms are available from the OFT website (new window)

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Package holidays

Any person organising packages which include travel accommodation and other tourist facilities (e.g. day trips) must ensure clients are given sufficient information about pricing and the package as a whole.  The organiser must cover the clients for repatriation and refunds in the event of insolvency of transport providers.

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Prices to be displayed

All goods on sale are required to have a price displayed either by marking each item, or using shelf-edge markers or price lists near to the goods. V.A.T. must be included in the price – unless the trader sells primarily to other traders.  There are detailed rules for showing the price per pound or kilogram, and also specific rules for jewellers, petrol stations, restaurants, pubs and bars and hotels. Traders must also display how the method of payment affects the price (e.g. surcharges on credit card purchases).

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Rogue traders

In certain circumstances where a trader has been given legal advice continues to persistently breach the criminal and civil law, Trading Standards may seek an injunction from a court compelling the trader to stop breaking the law. Failure to comply with the court injunction could result in a prison sentence.

The Consumer Protection Regulations, which replace many existing consumer protection laws as a result of a Europe-wide shake up in trading practices, will apply to businesses trading directly with consumers, from hoteliers and builders to retailers and second hand car dealers, and will for the first time establish a catch-all duty for businesses not to trade unfairly. The CPRs will also specifically ban 31 types of unfair sales practices outright, including:

  • Bogus ‘closing down’ sales
  • Prize draw scams
  • Offering bogus free gifts
  • Displaying false accreditations (such as wrongly claiming to be a CORGI-registered plumber)

 

Practices that mislead the consumer will also be against the law, such as false claims about a product’s effectiveness or failing to reveal to a customer that a contract has to run for a minimum period.

The new legislation will also make it against the law for aggressive practices to be used. These include the hard, pressurized selling tactics adopted by some doorstep traders who force customers to pay cash immediately for home repairs or traders who insist on giving customers a lift to the bank to withdraw money.

Businesses who do not comply with the new laws face a range of penalties from a written warning to, in the worst cases, criminal prosecution. Depending on the severity of the offence, these penalties could include fines and lengthy prison sentences.

For advice on possible Rogue Traders or related scams please call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or Contact Regulatory Services at Bedford Borough Council on 01234 718099.

 

Selling online or at a distance

If you sell to consumers online, or sell at a distance by another method such as digital TV, mail order, phone or fax, then the Distance Selling Regulations may apply to you.

Existing consumer protection law, including that on the sale of goods and misleading advertising, applies online. Additional pieces of legislation more specific to Internet trading are The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 (as amended) and the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002. These Regulations require consumers to be given clear information about the goods and services offered, and the right to cancel within seven working days. Clear information including the company details, terms and conditions, description of goods, cancellation rights and pricing information must be available on the website.

Trading standards services enforce other consumer and trading legislation that might apply. Examples include dealing with Misleading Prices, Product Safety Legislation and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations

To find out more about the Distance Selling Regulations visit the Distance Selling Regulations (new window) area of the OFT website.

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Sunday trading

All retail shops can open on a Sunday. Larger shops however, whose internal retail area exceeds 280 square meters are only allowed to open for up to 6 hours between the hours of 10am and 6pm.

Larger shops may not open on Easter Sunday or Christmas Day, if it falls on a Sunday.
The following large shops may open at any time on a Sunday:

  • Farm shops 
  • Shops selling wholly or mainly intoxicating liquor 
  • Motor cycle supplies and accessories 
  • Registered pharmacies selling only medicinal products 
  • Airport and Railway shops 
  • Service stations and petrol stations 
  • Stands at exhibitions

For more information on the Sunday Trading Act, please visit the OPSI website . (new window)

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Trader identity

Traders must display on their business premises details of who owns their business when the name of the shop does not reveal the surname of the owner, or in the case of a company their corporate name. These details must also be present on business stationery.

The law is in a state of flux with regard to business names. The current position is that the Companies Act 2006 is expected to repeal the Business Names Act 1985 on the 1 October 2009. Until that time, attention should be given to the 1985 Act and relevant parts of the 2006 Act. These require the form, style and legality of names used for companies, partnerships and sole traders and the manner of communicating the name and address of the entity to the public.

There are additional requirements for the provision of information under the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 and the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 (as amended).

For more information, contact the Trading Standards Service.

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Don't Miss

Environment

Here you will find information on environmental and planning issues. This section provides a wealth of information including details on how to make or enquire about a planning application, rubbish, waste and recycling information.

 


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