What happens when Trading Standards Service Investigate your Business?
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations came into force on 26 May 2008, implementing the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and apply to all “business to consumer” transactions and all conduct before, during and after the contract is made.
The Regulations impose a blanket prohibition on all “unfair commercial practices”. It has been left deliberately wide so as to catch any unfair practices that may be developed in the future. While this broad all-encompassing regulation offers an enhanced level of protection to the consumer, it can prove onerous and problematic for many businesses who are having their business practices scrutinised by Trading Standards and they are often left confused and unsure as to which practices they should adopt to ensure compliance with all the requirements set down in the Regulations.
Once a consumer has lodged a complaint against a business, this complaint it taken up by the Trading Standards Service, which is a public body sponsored by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), with powers to enforce the Regulations using the most appropriate means. These “means” of enforcement can vary from very informal regulatory procedures to civil actions and in the most extreme cases, criminal proceedings.
Over the course of the last 5 years, the Trading Standards Service has become increasingly active in investigating and pursing complaints lodged with them by consumers, in Northern Ireland.
If your business is being investigated by the Trading Standards Service for a suspected breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, or other regulatory breach, it is important that legal advice is obtained as soon as possible.
Similarly if the NI Environment Agency, Transport Regulation Unit (DOE) or the Health and Safety Executive (HSENI) instigate an investigation for a suspected regulatory breach, seek legal advice at an early stage.
It may be that an existing policy of commercial insurance will provide legal expenses cover in respect of the legal costs at the investigation interview stage and/ or at the prosecution stage.
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