William Eichler 15 December 2016

Consumer protection bodies ‘underfunded’, auditors say

Local Trading Standards services are expected to enforce hundreds of pieces of legislation while their funding and staffing numbers are cut, auditors warn.

A new report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed local Trading Standards have lost 56% of their full-time staff since 2009 - with some services now only having one qualified officer.

It also found 20 services in England have had their funding cut by over 60% since 2011.

Despite this lack of funding and personnel, local Trading Standards teams are expected to enforce 263 different pieces of legislation for different Government departments, the NAO said.

The report also discovered the consumer protection bodies were being incentivised to prioritise local issues, in particular safeguarding, with few resources available to either undertake enforcement cases or to organise services on national priorities.

‘The amount spent on trading standards has fallen from £213m, in 2011, to £125m today, so it’s not surprising the system is struggling to cope,’ said Leon Livermore, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute.

‘It has left consumers inadequately protected and has helped to set the conditions for issues like the horsemeat and hoverboards scandals and the ongoing problems with Whirlpool and VW.’

The NAO did note the Government had made progress on consumer protection issues over the last five years.

It welcomed the creation of the Consumer Protection Partnership, which brought consumer protection bodies together, and said National Trading Standards had prevented £345m worth of detriment to consumers since April 2014.

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