Frustration over contact with trading standards

Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.

Q Why is it not possible for me to contact trading standards? I tried to report a trader for misleading me about the cost of installing new windows in my bungalow, but ended up with the CAB.

JT (e-mail)

A I can perfectly understand your frustration.

You tried to make direct contact with a trading standards officer about a rip-off trading practice you clearly had every right to feel strongly about, and which you believed might cause other people to be taken in.

You were given two numbers to call. One was a 0845 number which costs callers 6p per minute, and a 0208 number which for most people will be cheaper or, depending on their telephone package, even free.

Initially you discussed your problem with someone on the 0845 number, who took the details and gave you some advice on how to proceed.

You took it that the person understood your complaint should go to a trading standards officer, and asked to be kept informed.

When you heard nothing more after three weeks, you were understandably annoyed, especially on discovering your complaint had ended up with the CAB service.

Apart from the fact that I have a fundamental objection to the public being required to pay to complain about potential criminal activity, you’ve been caught up in a confusing number of changes to the government’s approach to providing consumer protection and advice. It initially decided to fund Consumer Direct, a national advice service. Local authority trading standards departments promptly seized the opportunity to dump direct contact with the public.

Wind on a few more years and the government decided to make the national CAB service a ‘one-stop shop’ point of contact for all consumer advice, dropping Consumer Direct like a ton of hot bricks.

Since April, Citizens’ Advice has employed a commercial organisation to handle consumer complaints.

And no, you still can’t make direct contact with trading standards, however strongly you feel about your complaint. It’s called progress, and I admit there are some advantages. But I unashamedly remain entirely convinced that insulating the public from those who are employed to protect them is nothing more than a shoddy cost-cutting measure.

Q Shortly after moving into our new home we discovered there was a long-standing dispute with the neighbours over a boundary. Shouldn’t we have been told about this by the seller?

AY (e-mail)

A Yes, it is a fundamental contract issue. The seller should have completed a property information form which asks for disclosure of boundary disputes.

If the seller failed to disclose the problem or gave misleading information it might be possible for you to make a financial claim against them.

Ask your solicitor for guidance and advice.

SMALL PRINT

Richard Thomson is a former trading standards officer with many years experience. If you have a question, e-mail him at richardjthomson1@sky.com and wherever possible he will try to provide practical assistance. Unfortunately he cannot guarantee to respond to every letter or e-mail. Richard Thomson welcomes letters from readers on consumer issues. Replies are intended to give general help or advice, not a complete statement of law.