Trading standards can’t always sort it out

St Mary's, Fratton ' Based in the heart of Portsmouth, this church is also one of the largest in the region.

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Have your say

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

Q I had a bit of a problem with a well-known car dealership over a misleading price for a used car. I complained via Consumer Direct to trading standards. They investigated but almost three months later washed their hands of it and told me there was nothing they could do. What is the point of trading standards if they refuse to take any action about an obvious rip-off situation?

KW (internet)

A You didn’t give me enough detail to be able to give you a precise answer.

From what little I know, it appears there may have been a misunderstanding about the role of trading standards in public protection.

As an enforcement agency, trading standards is required to satisfy a court of law that some aspect of trading regulation has been infringed. In practice this means getting a trader before the courts after obtaining sufficient evidence to convince a judge that trading law has been broken.

It’s simply not good enough to suspect, or even know, the law has been broken. What is essential is sufficient proof to obtain a conviction.

Pricing law is riddled with exceptions and stipulations which make obtaining sufficient proof to slap rogue traders down about as likely as a cart horse winning the grand national.

I’ve no idea why your particular problem, which you convinced me was serious enough to warrant a trading standards investigation, did not subsequently translate into taking the car dealership to court. It seems to me that in your case there may well have not been conclusive evidence.

Q I recently bought a 42-inch plasma TV, and as I don’t have any form of transport the store delivered it to me for a small charge. Within a couple of weeks the picture stared breaking up. The store has agreed to exchange it, but only if I return the TV to them which in my situation is impossible. Where do I stand please?

JU (internet)

A You are not legally obliged to return goods yourself if they turn out to be faulty. In practice most people take faulty products back to where they bought them because it helps get any problems sorted in the shortest possible time.

As bulky goods can be a problem the answer is to insist the store collects the defective TV and at the same time delivers the replacement. The swap should be at no additional charge.

Q My six year old desktop computer takes ages to start up. It’s like watching paint dry. Do I have to reach for the credit card and buy a new one, or can my otherwise perfectly serviceable computer be revived?

MG (internet)

A If I were you I’d first check if the machine is running out of virtual memory because you have too many programmes running at start-up.

If that is the case, preventing them starting when you first switch the computer on should help you speed it up considerably.

Press the start button, go to ‘run’ and type msconfig in the box. A window will pop up and you’ll need to click on the ‘startup’ tab. Just uncheck all the boxes of the applications you don’t want.