Trading Standards (TS) is the statutory body that enforces a wide range of consumer protection legislation.
Each Local Authority has its own Trading Standards department and they have wide-ranging legal powers to investigate, enforce and prosecute. Unfortunately, this, and constraints on Local Authority finances, means that TS are not always able to prioritise investigations into misleading healthcare claims as high as we feel they should.
In terms of complaining about misleading healthcare claims, etc, the two main ones are The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPUTR) and the Cancer Act 1939.
These are wide-ranging regulations that cover commercial practices between traders and consumers. Although the regulations cover both misleading actions given to consumers as well as the misleading omissions by a trader that 'causes or is likely to cause the average consumer to take a transactional decision he would not have taken otherwise.'
Unfortunately, there seems to be some reluctance to use the regulations and widespread variation in how they are interpreted and applied. Coupled with the fact that there seems to have been few prosecutions under these two particular sections, it's difficult to reply on them.
However, this is up to your local TS office and it's still worth pursuing complaints that you believe might fall within the scope of the CPUTR. We would be especially interested if you are ever successful in doing this — and indeed of any failures — so please contact us.
Cancer Act 1939
Although passed nearly 80 years ago, its raison d'etre was to protect the public from quacks advertising unproven, disproven and possibly dangerous 'cures' for cancer.
Much of the Act has since been repealed or subsumed into other Acts, but essentially, all the Act now says is:
4 Prohibition of certain advertisements.
(1)No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement—
(a)containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof;
Note that this does not apply to doctors, etc and essentially only concerns adverts made to the general public — this is why it is so relevant to misleading healthcare claims.
Jo Brodie curates a list of known Cancer Act 1939 convictions in the UK.
Submitting a complaint to Trading Standards
Via Citizens' Advice
Consumers are encouraged to submit a complaint via Citizens' Advice (CA): Reporting a problem to Trading Standards. Once you've read their advice, you can submit your complaint using their online form, but note that the form restricts your complaint to 2,250 characters and remember to take a copy of your complaint before clicking on 'Submit'.
Citizens Advice will look at your complaint and decide whether or not to pass it to TR and if, so, which TS office to send it to — the office will depend on where you and the trader are located and it could be the head office of the trader if they have an agreement with TS that all complaints will be handled by them.
It's our expereince that CA don't always tell you which TS office they have passed your complaint on to, so we suggest you include something like:
I would be grateful if you could investigate this and keep me informed of your progress. Please also let me know which TS Office this is passed to, and, if possible, a contact email address for that TS Office.
You should then have the information with which to contact TS to follow up on your complaint. We suggest you then contact the TS office by forwarding on the confirmation email you will have received from CA, perhaps saying:
Please see email conversation below between myself and Citizens Advice about a compliant about XXXXXXXXX that has been passed to your office.
I would be grateful if you could keep me updated on the progress and outcome of you investigations and any action taken.
Note that CA will assign your case a reference number and that TS will assign it their own reference. It's best to quote both in all correspondence and consider providing your own reference if you have submitted more than one complaint.
If TS require further information, they will contact you. If you have not been able to provide all the information in the CA form, please include the essential information on the form but make it clear you have further relevant information.
Direct to Trading Standards
You can also submit your complaint direct to TS if you know where the trader is located. You can find the TS office for a particular Post Code on the website of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute or on gov.uk. If you choose the wrong office they should either pass it on to the correct one, or tell you who you should send your complaint to. Note that they may request that you submit your complaint via Citizens' Advice.
TS officers can be very helpful and useful to have a good working relationship with. As always, remember our advice:
- Keep it simple and to the point.
- Keep it impersonal and factual.
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