trading standards: why I joined

CTSI asked member's a series of questions relating to the trading standards profession. Here are some of their responses:

 What made you choose a career in trading standards?

  • I chose the degree first based on my interests in consumer issues and previous employment experiences. Then as the degree is so specialised I followed the trading standards route. I knew the role would be varied and interesting and that I would be helping people.
  • By accident really, I went to University to do a LLB Law degree with the intention to become a criminal solicitor. After finishing my degree I did start my LPC but unfortunately due to health reasons I had to drop out of the course. I did have the intention of returning but never did. I started working at call centres in Wales and ended up working at Consumer Direct Wales as it was one of the better call centres to work for and was making use of my degree. I started applying for jobs in trading standards as I wanted to make more use of my degree and have a professional career.
  • It was purely by accident, I went for a job as a sandblaster, expecting to clean civic buildings, but ended up testing and stamping pint glasses. The variety of work and the fact that it can help people and make a contribution to society. I have a law degree, so this has been very useful as I need to interpret the law as part of my everyday job. I enjoy meeting new people and helping businesses and this is also part of a TS professional's job.
  • I initially joined trading standards as a technical assistant. However, from that lowly position I became interested and then went on to study.
  • You must be able to interpret different legislation and be able to apply it to different situations and circumstances. Must have good communications skills and able to adapt to whoever you are speaking to whether it be large corporation or vulnerable consumer. Must be friendly and approachable but at the same time able to stand your ground when enforcing legislation with traders. Must be able to be flexible as it is not always a 9-5 job.

What are the most important skills a trading standards professional should possess?

  • A sense of humour, an open mind, dedication to the role and to maintaining up to date knowledge of trading standards issues and the legislation that applies.
  • Good people skills, listening, communicating and empathising.
  • You should be polite but assertive. It is important to engage with members of the public, whether they are businesses or consumers and I think establishing a rapport is important. After all, a lot of time can be spent advising people to do things they rather wouldn't do. It is also useful to have a sense of morality, after all we are meant to be protecting the public from all aspects of unfair trading, whether it is doorstep crime or food standards. It is necessary to be up to date with technology and current trends as the world of business never stays still.
  • A dispassionate ability to look at evidence. 

Who do you work with?

  • Police, Environment Agency, Environmental Health, Fire Service, VOSA, district councils, HMRC.
  • Customs and Excise, DEFRA, the police and local Environmental Health departments
  • Police, Fire and rescue, Gambling Commission, EH, HMRC, DWP, VOSA.
  • Environmental Health for food issues and the Food Standards Agency. I also work with BSI (British Standards Agency) where I sit on their committee for the ladders standards.
  • I am employed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. 

What is the most exciting task you've worked on?

  • A seizure of thousands of illegal lasers. The lasers were being sold over the internet from a trader's home address. The trader was selling lasers too powerful for the general public and they were encouraging their use against the Police and in riots.
  • Difficult to pin point one, as a lot of the work I do I find exciting. I quite enjoy carrying out warrants and seizures. But i really like helping people especially the elderly who have been ripped off by a rogue trader. So I find responding to a live doorstep incident exciting especially if it stops someone handing over money, or getting the trader to pay the money back.
  • I suppose it was on the last day of existence of Mid Glamorgan County Council, March 1996, we had a factory in Merthyr Tydfil producing counterfeit CDs. Virtually the whole department were involved in the raid, along with the Police. The place was pretty big, and we had to race around to the various entry/exit points in our vehicles, I thought for a few moments I was in the Sweeny!
  • There are too many to mention, However, I have assisted a national chain in conducting a product recall of an unsafe toy. I am currently investigating a business that is selling an illegal food supplement, which is unfit for human consumption.
  • I investigated a solicitor who had laundered in excess of £88,000,000.00

What made you choose to become a member of CTSI?

  • To keep abreast of the latest news and for CPPD requirements.
  • Initially because I was going through the DCATS framework, and therefore it was of benefit to me to be a member as I received a reduction on courses and exams. I have remained a member now I am a fully qualified despite being on a tight budget, as it allows me to network with other authorities and attend the different training courses.
  • Professional pride. I have always thought that you should strive to do the best you can in anything in life, joining a professional body was an obvious move.
  • To keep up to date with the profession, to network and to support my profession.
  • I became a member whilst still working in trading standards as an enforcement officer.

What advice would you give to someone starting a career in your field?

  • Keep an open mind, don't be afraid to ask questions, enjoy what you do.
  • Expect the unexpected and no two days are the same. Welcome change because change is a certainty in this job.
  • Always be open minded and look to learn from all your experiences.
  • To try as many things as possible when training. For example try and experience weights and measures, unfair trading, food safety, product safety, underage sales, animal health. When you've given everything a go, you can decide if you wish to specialise, or remain a generalist.
  • If you are passionate about it then go for it.  

Has being a member of CTSI added value to your career?

  • I have recently attended the South Eastern Branch weekend, which I found to be useful and the training provided was helpful for my job. Without CTSI there would not be the DCATS framework and I would not have been promoted within my authority. I do think it will help in the future as I want to progress in my career. I appreciate that CTSI helps keep trading standards in the public eye to try and help the profession.
  • Without a doubt. You get to meet fellow professionals not only from your own region but also throughout the country. You get far better perspective being able to exchange views and ideas with as many different people as possible. It's also allowed me to give something back to a profession I am very proud of.
  • Yes, because I have been able to keep up to date with TS Today magazine and attend branch meetings. In the past I have also attended CTSI Conference.  

What are your main duties?

  • Investigate safety complaints, conduct market surveillance, carry out inspections at trader's premises, inspect petrol stations and firework stores for safe storage, and respond to doorstep crime issues as a member of the rapid response team and conducting underage sales exercises.
  • The job is very varied and has changed considerably since I joined my authority more than four years ago. Currently I complete criminal investigations and enforcement work. I also undertake some project work which could be checking unsafe goods in charity shops to doing forecourt inspections on car dealerships. I am food qualified so I also do food visits. I am on the RAT rota (Rapid Action Team) so I could be called out to deal with anything such as a doorstep incident, illegal animal landing at Gatwick or inspection of goods at the cargo sheds, to trying to locate an animal carcass in the middle of nowhere to get it removed, or even a petroleum call out. However our service is about to have another restructure and therefore my role may change again.
  • I manage a team of nine officers. Three of which are dedicated to delivering second tier consumer advice, the other six being dedicated to enforcing the laws re Intellectual Property crime, doorstep crime, age restricted sales, the motor trade and licensing enforcement.
  • About 50% of my work is food safety as I am in the food team that visits our food manufacturers and importers. I check standards, sample food to see if it is contaminated (mycotoxins and heavy metals can be a particular problem) and ensure labelling is correct (for example to see if all the allergens are correctly listed) I also visit our importers and manufacturers for product safety issues. This includes toys, ladders, electrical products, candles, cosmetics and personal protection equipment. I also check scales and average quantity measurements.
  • I investigate and report on solicitors for compliance with their code of conduct and certain legislative requirements.

How do you keep your skills and knowledge up to date?

  • Reading TS Today & TS Review, dissemination from colleagues, research as part of a complaint investigation, CPPD.
  • Through training courses, speaking to colleagues and research on the internet etc.
  • Attend as many courses as I can, the training put on by CTSI branches is most useful, it being varied and more accessible. Attempt to escape from behind my desk whenever the opportunity arises.
  • By in house training and the occasional course run by my regional CTSI branch. 

What is the best advice you have been given?

  • That you are not doing your job properly if you do not get complaints and you are bound to upset someone as you are unable to please everyone.
  • Treat everyone you meet with respect

What are the key challenges facing trading standards?

  • Financial and human resources, changes in the legislative landscape, advances in technology that allow traders to hide behind a computer and target consumers.
  • Financial cuts and funding, staying an important function in the local councillor's agenda. trading standards departments are getting smaller, but we are expected to make larger financial impact.
  • Local Government finances. Loss of expertise and knowledge which we can't replace quickly enough.
  • Commissioning out could pose real problems for our profession's credibility, and more reduction of an already too small service. Also restrictions by RIPA/telecommunications legislation by an ill informed Government are very concerning, as we may not be able to catch our career criminals who conduct car clocking, counterfeiting and doorstep crime.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

  • When something unsafe is taken off the market, it feels like I have made a difference and protected consumers, especially if the target market is vulnerable e.g children.
  • I like being able to help people and offer a little bit of hope for people. It's nice to see a trader being found guilty on a prosecution that you have worked hard on, even if the fines are sometimes not very much. I like being able to prevent traders from ripping people off. I also like doing a job which I find interesting and enjoy most of the time, despite it sometimes being very stressful.
  • Helping those who have been ripped off and causing as much grief to the rouges as possible
  • Helping businesses understand complex areas of law so that they can comply. Also helping members of the public when they have been harmed by unsafe items. 

How does CTSI help you maintain CPPD?

  • CTSI offer training courses and online learning.
  • Conference and Branch training

Can you give an example of trading standards enforcement that had a positive outcome?

  • As the result of our enquiries in relation to the safety of a child's pushchair the design was altered by the manufacturer. Prior to the redesign the pushchair kept tipping over with the child in it and a few children and babies had been injured.
  • I have had a few successful prosecutions but I always remember a time when I had only been doing the job for a few months when we used to do civil intervention work; I helped a retired couple get quite a substantial refund from a large national window company. The couple came to the office with a lovely bunch of flower to thank me, with a note saying that I am now the reason they can sleep at night. I have kept the note to remind me why I do the job, when I have had a tough day.
  • Lots! It's always nice to get compensation for a victim of crime whilst punishing the wrongdoer. Very pleasing was a local self employed tradesman who purchased a top of the range Land Rover as a family vehicle. The vehicle was clocked and mis-described in other ways. We prosecuted the trader and got almost £5,000 in compensation for the consumer who by this time had been hit by illness and the recession, so the money really helped. The trader went bust he had to take his son out of private education, downsize his house and spend 240 hours picking litter out of canals. A very satisfying result.
  • Whenever we can encourage businesses to conduct a voluntary recall of an unsafe item. It might cost business money, but if they can resolve the problem without trading standards having to resort to prosecution or enforcing our recall powers, this can be a success as the unsafe items are removed from circulation.