Trading Standards and You
Trading Standards officers are qualified public servants who protect consumers by enforcing government legislation in relation to the provision of goods and services.
There is a network of officers across the UK working on your behalf. They will tackle rogue traders and breaches of the law such as the Trades Description Act which exists to protect the interests of customers and members of the public. They can also take action in enforcing the law as well as being able to testify in court against errant traders.
Trading Standards InstituteThe central body for trading standards is the Trading Standards Institute which conducts research and develops policies designed to safeguard and protect consumers. Hidden fees are one of the many areas that it highlights. For example in 2008 it published a report exposing the hidden charges often involved in baggage charges on flights, especially those booked online. By highlighting such issues it aims to tackle them and defend the interests of consumers.
Local Trading Standard officesWhile the central body operates at a national level there are local offices across the UK which will deal with individual cases. If you feel you have suffered hidden fees or unwanted charges you may be able to report the company or trader to your local trading standards office.
Normally your local trading standards office will be operated by your local authority or council so you should contact them in the first instance. Their job is to protect you from rogue traders and bad business practice and so hidden fees and charges falls under this heading.
How trading standard officers can helpTrading standard officers provide consumer advice, make routine inspections of businesses and follow up on complaints and problems. They can give you legal advice and, if necessary they will appear in court to give evidence against unscrupulous and rogue traders and those who have broken the law in some way. They provide a reliable port of call when you need support and legal input into an experience of hidden fees. They can provide you with sound advice as to whether the fees were legitimate or not and can advise on your best way forward if the unwanted fee was not valid.
Consumer DirectAnother related source of help and advice on issues and the law relating to hidden fees and trading standards is the government helpline Consumer Direct. It is available free phone 08454 04 05 06, minicom users 08451 28 13 84. You can telephone the helpline for advice on general regulations and the law or for a specific issue which has arisen.
Even if you don’t have a problem which needs addressing now it is worth familiarizing yourself with the work of your local trading standards. Most offices have a website and this is an excellent source of consumer advice. Here you may find factsheets and tips providing you with guidance on dealing with a host of consumer issues, including the problem of hidden charges and fees. Officers are also engaged in outreach activities and so you can approach them to invite them to talk on relevant issues to any group or organisation you are involved with.