A new report from the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers (ACTSO) shows that demand for local Trading Standards services has spiralled in the pandemic, mounting pressure on already stretched services.
In the third annual review into The Impacts and Outcomes of Local Trading Standards Services in England and Wales, figures for 2020/21 show that despite some non-Covid enforcement activity pausing, the demand on the service (measured by the number of referrals from Citizens Advice) increased by 20% and the number of scam victims supported last year increased by 26%.
The report notes that COVID-19 gave rise to criminals trying to profit from the pandemic and the report details incidents of COVID-19 related scams which local Trading Standards teams investigated. Scams included spraying driveways to remove covid, fraudsters offering a shopping service for the vulnerable and then absconding with money as well as nuisance mail containing COVID-19 misinformation.
In addition to fighting COVID-19 related scams, local Trading Standards teams helped to safeguard the supplies of compliant PPE and developed checklists for assessing compliance consistency of PPE imports shared with Ports and Borders teams across the country.
Trading Standards services were a key part of the local authority Covid response, supporting authorities to manage the surge of activity surrounding the pandemic including compliance checks on businesses, requests for advice from businesses and enforcement action. Trading Standards supported local authorities with over 1.2 million Covid-secure compliance checks in 2020/21.
In addition, the report Protecting the Public and Supporting Business During the Pandemic also shows that in 2020/21 local Trading Standards Services:
- Prevented over £588 million of consumer detriment
- Increased support for businesses, outside the formal primary authority scheme, by 28%.
- Despite a backlog in the courts, saw over 650 defendants taken through the prosecution process and prison sentences of over 203 years were handed down.
- Nearly 43 million unsafe or non-compliant products and PPE were seized or removed from the market place following Trading Standards’ interventions.
- Over 35,500 COVID-19 non-compliant businesses were identified in England and required follow up actions to bring them into compliance and in some cases involved the issue of fines
Steve Ruddy, Chair of the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers, said:
“This past year has been an incredibly difficult year and it shows that not even a global pandemic can put a stop to criminals trying to profit from the most vulnerable in our society. However, I am proud of the commitment that local Trading Standards Services have made to keep supporting business and individuals against a backdrop of cuts to services, increasing demand and backlog in the courts.
“Across England and Wales the fact that £588 million of detriment was prevented by trading standards services despite these challenges demonstrates the continued importance and impact of Trading Standards to local authorities across the country. Looking ahead, it is vital that we try to clear the backlog in the courts so that we can keep processing new cases and maintain our commitments to support business, consumers and local authorities.