Career in Trading Standards

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Lee Shaw works as a trainee trading standards officer with a County Council. He helps to make sure that businesses obey the law when they supply goods and services.

Can you describe your career in trading standards?

We visit businesses of all kinds, checking that they are working within the laws protecting consumers. There are 60 acts of Parliament and about 60,000 European Directives and UK regulations, orders and standards covering issues like faulty and dangerous goods and food safety as well as weighing, measuring and describing goods accurately.

What things do you check?

In a supermarket, for example, I check that the price shown on an item is the price charged at the till. Also, I check 'sell-by' dates on goods, and that all the ingredients and additives are correctly listed on food labelling. I use accurate weights to make sure that the scales are working and pricing properly.

In a pub I use measuring cups to check that the drinks are dispensed in the correct quantities and that the food on offer is accurately described in the menu.

What other businesses do you visit?

In factories, I check that all the materials used have passed safety tests, and that there are quality assurance procedures to make sure that faulty goods do not leave the factory. Also, I visit petrol stations, where I use measuring vessels to check that petrol pumps are dispensing the correct measure of petrol.

I visit shops and market stalls looking at goods with brand or designer labels. If they are not of good quality – for example if the stitching on clothes is poor – they could be counterfeit. If I am suspicious I seize the goods and contact the owner of the brand. If the brand owner agrees that the goods are counterfeit, I will prosecute.

What do you do if a business is breaking the law?

In the most serious cases I prepare a prosecution report and take the business to court. I also go to court to give evidence as a prosecution witness. For less serious offences, I could send a warning letter or an advisory letter.

Do you ever need to work undercover?

Yes, I sometimes act as a householder in a 'house of horrors'. That is where we rent a house and ask an expert to set up faults in the plumbing and heating system or the fridge or cooker. Then, I ask tradespeople like plumbers and electricians to look at the problem.

By watching secretly from another room, I can check that they diagnose the fault correctly, repair it properly and charge fairly. If they don't I could take them to court. What skills do you need?

Good communication skills are essential, especially for writing official letters and preparing legal cases. You also need excellent interpersonal skills to deal with people who are breaking the law – it's important to remain calm if someone becomes angry or abusive. You must be prepared to spend a lot of time keeping up-to-date with the law.

What do you like most about your trading standards job?

It's very varied and challenging – no two days are ever the same. I have the power to protect the public from unscrupulous traders and that is rewarding.

Lee's route to his trading standards job

  • OND Science.
  • HND Minerals Engineering.
  • BA Consumer Protection.
  • One year as a consumer advice officer.
  • Diploma in Consumer Affairs, two years full-time.
  • Trading standards law consultant for a car importer.

Lee's trading standards job tips

  • If your school is involved in a trading standards or consumer protection project, make sure you join in.
  • Contact your local trading standards office to try to arrange a visit or some work experience.

Trading standards related jobs

Salary of a trading standards officer

  • Newly qualified trading standards officers normally earn between £20,500 and £24,900.
  • There is a structured career and salary path to deputy or chief trading standards officer.

How to work in trading standards

  • With a BA/BSc degree in Consumer Protection from an approved university, you can apply for a post as a trainee trading standards officer with a local authority.
  • You would then study 18 months part-time for the Diploma in Trading Standards (DTS).
  • You could also enter the trading standards service as a consumer adviser and work towards the DTS via the Accreditation of Prior Experience and Learning Scheme.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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