New rules forcing officers to give notice of trading standards inspections could have “unintended consequences” for fraudsters, according to the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).
Under the proposed legislation, which would come in through the draft Consumer Rights Bill, which is currently being scrutinised by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, officers would have to give a warning of at least two days for routine inspections and explain the reasons behind them.
Ministers say that this is part of the Government’s red tape-cutting policy for businesses and that the new rules will cut costs for law-abiding firms. However, the TSI said that the only people who would gain from such a change are “the fraudsters and the conmen”, adding that notice would give fraudulent businesses, such as counterfeiters, time to get rid of evidence before inspectors arrived.
With many cases of fraud, such as counterfeit alcohol and tobacco, uncovered as a result of routine inspections, this will amount to tipping off people who may be breaking the law and giving them ample opportunity to get rid of evidence before inspectors arrive, warned Andy Foster, TSI operations and policy director.
He added that the Institute accepts that it is the Government’s intention to protect freedoms for the public but, “in our view”, he said, “they have gone too far the other way.”
Currently, trading standards officers can enter any business premises to inspect them for breaches in such areas as weights and measures or product safety at “any reasonable time” and without warning. Anyone refusing them entry could be seen to be obstructing an officer, which is a criminal offence, which is why the proposed change is being viewed as radical.
Other new measures in the draft bill that the Government believes will benefit businesses include faster and lower cost remedies for companies disadvantaged from breaches in competition law.
Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London
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