Trading standards

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at anyone who is dissatisfied with the way a council’s trading standards office has dealt with their complaint about a trader, or the way in which a council has carried out its investigative, monitoring and enforcement work, and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

A local trader has broken consumer protection law and I have reported this to the local trading standards office, but it has not pursued the matter. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In some cases, yes. But there are some matters we are not allowed to look at by law:

  • We cannot deal with a complaint about the ‘rogue’ trader. We can only look at the way your complaint about the trader was handled by the council. You may have legal rights against the trader and these are not affected by your complaints either to the Ombudsman or to the council.
  • We cannot normally deal with a complaint about the merits of a council’s properly-taken decision – for example, a decision not to investigate your complaint or not prosecute the trader. Councils have discretion on trading standards matters as to whether, and to what extent, to investigate a particular complaint: and their decisions are taken in the general interests of the public, rather than the interest of the individual complainant. So complaining to the council does not necessarily mean that you will have no need to take action against the trader yourself.
  • If the council does prosecute the trader, we cannot look at what goes on in court.
  • In most cases a council will refer complaints about civil law matters, such as breach of contract, to Citizens Advice. See the Consumer rights page on the Gov.uk website.

But we can consider complaints about:

  • whether the council has properly considered what level of investigation to carry out, and
  • the way in which any investigation was conducted.

I am a trader and I am dissatisfied with the way the council has treated me. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes, in some circumstances. But the law prevents us from considering some matters.

We cannot consider complaints about the commencement or conduct of court proceedings, but we may be able to consider complaints about what happened before the council decided to start court proceedings.

We may be able to consider complaints about advice and guidance given by the council, or that it has failed to follow its policies and procedures.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it dealt with your complaint which has caused you problems. Some of the issues we can look at are if the council:

  • delayed in dealing with your complaint or failed to keep you informed
  • did not properly consider whether to investigate the complaint, or
  • having decided to investigate, did not carry out an adequate and timely investigation; and did not keep proper records of the complaint and any investigation.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

If we find errors in the way that the council made its decisions about how to deal with your complaint, we would consider whether the council would have been likely to make different decisions if it had not made those errors. If so, we might recommend that the council:

  • take action to put the matter right, such as to correct mistakes in records or, where appropriate, to carry out another investigation
  • apologise for what went wrong
  • we may ask the council to make a payment to you. Whether we do this and the amount we suggest will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong, or
  • where we find fault with the council’s procedures, we will often recommend that the council makes changes so that the same problem does not occur again.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

A woman complained that the Council was at fault for failing to pursue a trader on her behalf who, she says, should pay her back the money she spent correcting his sub-standard work. The Council told the complainant that, contrary to her allegation, it had found no evidence of fraud. It told her that if she wanted to recover damages against him then this would be action she would have to take herself in the civil courts. The Ombudsman’s view was that the Council properly considered this case. It looked into whether a criminal offence had been committed and on deciding it had not, it wrote to the complainant with its decision and gave her information about her options if she wanted to pursue her own civil case or use the dispute resolution body.
A man complained that the Council failed to take appropriate enforcement action and protect the public from a local firm after receiving reports about poor service. The Ombudsman found some fault by the Council. While the Council received and considered hundreds of reports about this firm, the evidence does not show what happened with its investigation during a 12- month period. But the Ombudsman considered the Council’s delay caused no significant injustice to the complainant. The Council agreed to apologise for its delay.

Other sources of information

Most councils have lots of information and advice about trading standards and consumer protection issues on their own websites.

Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or see their website.

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

October 2019