Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.
Q I read your article a couple of weeks ago about a device called the ‘magic box’ and the claim it could save 30 to 50 per cent off heating costs.
I almost spent £13,000 on this product, but after reading your advice I decided against it. I would just like to thank you for your warning.
A The decision whether to buy a magic box was of course yours, but the savings were grossly exaggerated.
You could buy the equivalent of one of these gadgets from most boiler manufacturers at a fraction of the cost. Even then the savings are only likely to be around three to five per cent.
I’m pleased to say that after I brought the savings claims to the attention of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) the magic box manufacturer has removed the outrageous claim from their website advertising.
A full ASA council public adjudication is due shortly.
Q I’ve made several complaints about being ripped off over the years to trading standards but nothing has ever come of them. A year ago I asked you to sort a pricing dispute out with a supermarket and it was immediately resolved. Why can’t trading standards get the same results?
A Well I suppose the simple answer is that it’s horses for courses.
Trading standards is a law enforcement agency. That fact alone immediately traps them in a legal straitjacket, with all the paraphernalia of the criminal and civil justice system.
Evidence-gathering and obtaining sufficient proof of a potential breach of the law can be complex, expensive, and long-winded.
Link that with endless whingeing by the business community for less regulation, throw in an element of political meddling, and you’ve the perfect recipe for an over-cautious and timid approach to consumer protection.
Warning the public about duff electric blankets, or expending time and money tracking down fake Nike trainers and Gucci handbags is all well and good.
But I just wonder whether these are priorities for most of the public.
I’d wager most people would be far better protected by knowing just how many complaints have been made about potentially dodgy traders in their midst.
It’s no secret why Streetwise has a good record at fixing consumer problems promptly.
The power of the press to alert the public to unfair, shoddy, and sometimes criminal business practices has far fewer legal constraints.
Richard Thomson has worked for leading UK and European companies as a market research analyst, and in consumer education and protection with trading standards. Write or e-mail him with your consumer questions or to fight for your rights at email@example.com. An individual answer cannot be guaranteed. Replies are intended to give help or advice, not a complete statement of law.