Wronged by a rip-off trader
Been ripped off by a tradesman and don't know how to fight back? Rosalind Kent has all the answers.
There is nothing worse than feeling that your complaint is not being taken seriously. When you have been wronged by a tradesman, business or shopkeeper and want action taken against them, you might contact a body like Trading Standards or the Office of Fair Trading who, you hope, will step in and resolve the problem.
I have worked for both of these organisations, as an Enforcement Officer for Trading Standards and a case officer for the Office of Fair Trading, and this article will explain how these organisations work, and what they do.
The Office of Fair Trading
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) does not offer individual advice to members of the public. The sheer volume of complaints about traders and scams, originating both from the UK and abroad, makes it impossible to offer a personal advice service.
The purpose of the OFT is make sure that the economic market works in favour of the consumer by gathering information and conducting investigations into problem traders.
I worked on timeshare scams, which sadly an enormous amount of people fall victim to every year, and took many an irate call from people who couldn’t understand why we were not fighting to get them their personal losses back.
When I worked at Trading Standards we used to tackle enormous volumes of consumer complaints. Now, a government funded organisation called Consumer Direct takes these calls and provides individual tailored advice.
Your case will only be passed on to Trading Standards if it meets certain criteria, usually that it a criminal matter or that it is in the public interest that action be taken.
A simple way of determining whether Trading Standards will be able to take action on your behalf is to look at whether your complaint involves civil or criminal law. If you are pursuing a trader or company to claim unpaid money, or for breach of contract, you will have civil legal remedies, which Consumer Direct can inform you about.
So, if you have bought a faulty TV, and you want a Trading Standards officer to go round to the shop and get your money back, you will be disappointed.
This can be frustrating for people who call expecting immediate action, but there is a good reason that this system is in place.
Trading Standards were inundated with consumer complaints, like the TV example above, and spent a lot of time on the phone with clients explaining their rights, and deflecting their anger that we couldn’t intervene for them. This meant that we had less time to deal with the criminal matters, like underage sales of alcohol, knives or fireworks, counterfeit goods, unsafe goods, misleading advertising, food safety, contraventions of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and offences against the Weights and Measures Act 1985 (this involved checking things like spirit measures in pubs – we didn’t drink the shots afterwards, that was frowned upon!)
Trading Standards have statutory powers to inspect premises, seize and detain goods, perform test purchases, issue suspension or fixed penalty notices and conduct interviews under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. To have all these officers preoccupied by giving civil consumer advice is simply not a good use of their time, or taxpayers’ money.
What Trading Standards can help you with
Some less well-known criminal offences that Trading Standards can help you with include:
misleading prices, or not having the price displayed clearly with the goods;
selling food past its Use By date (although not its Best Before date) and
having a No Refund sign up next to the till.
Don’t expect police cars to shoot round if you report some of these, but Trading Standards will go and explain the legislation to the trader, and may take further action against repeat offenders.
What you need to know
To sum up, neither Trading Standards nor Consumer Direct can demand a refund from a trader for you.
Nor can they take action on your behalf if you want the case to go to court (you must do this yourself, see my previous article Win in the Small Claims Court).
Similarly, they cannot recommend traders - although some are part of the Local Authority Assured Trader Scheme Network. If your area does not provide this service then have a look at Trustmark instead.
Finally, unfortunately, they cannot help you pay for any specialist evidence that you might need to pursue your claim (i.e. expert report on a faulty computer).
But they can provide you with all the support and assistance possible to pursue valid claims yourself, whilst they go out and tackle dangerous, illegal or criminal companies who are putting the public at risk.
Share your own experiences
Have you ever been wronged by a rip-off trader? If so, did you fight back - and did you win? Please share your own experiences using the comments box below so other lovemoney.com readers can benefit!