Unusual Case Histories from Trading Standards
As a Trading Standards advice officer, you get to hear some strange things. Along with serious and sometimes upsetting tales of people being fleeced by bogus salespeople, or being caught up in Scams, losing money that they can ill afford to lose, at Trading Standards the day is lightened on a regular basis by calls from people who really should know better – or perhaps find a hobby.
Regular Visitors and Unreasonable ComplaintsEvery Trading Standards department seems to have its fair share of regulars, and some of these can prove exasperating. Imagine the scene when one of the regulars at a particular Trading Standards drop-in centre appeared with what looked like a wonky baking tray from a well known and now defunct kitchen supplies store. Brandishing the tray, the regular started to complain that he had bought the said item for 99p but it had proved faulty and warped in the oven.
The adviser told him that he was Entitled To His Money Back, or another tray, as long as he had proof of purchase, if the tray had warped on first use.
"I know," he said. "They already gave me a new tray. But what about the manufacturer? What are you going to do about them?"
The adviser explained that the manufacturer was not liable for the refund, but if he was concerned he could write to them voicing his displeasure. "I have!" exclaimed the regular, "and they sent me a new tray." So, he had two brand new baking trays for 99p and was still not happy. The adviser suggested that the manufacturer had done over and above what they were legally obliged to – but the regular disagreed.
"They should test everything they sell before it gets onto the shelves," he argued. Politely, the adviser suggested that this could be impossible to do, but unperturbed the regular insisted, "Marks and Spencer does it, why can't everyone else?"
Weights and MeasuresTrading Standards Departments are legally obliged to investigate cases where goods are not described properly, including their weight. Officers carry out regular checks on petrol stations for example, as well as checking scales for traders, and visiting pubs and clubs to check they are giving out the correct measures for alcohol. Although that sounds more like pleasure than work! Anyway, these responsibilities often lead to unusual complaints.
One Trading Standards adviser was handed a sheet of paper with green strips sellotaped to it. A disgruntled gentleman claimed that these strips had come from his bag of frozen green beans, and that in his opinion there were far too many strings – which would have affected the weight of the bag. A difficult one to prove, but nevertheless it was passed on to the weights and measures team for investigation – and probably a polite letter.
Pointless ComplaintAnother visitor was upset because he found what looked like pieces of fingernail in his bread. He had painstakingly removed the pieces from his loaf and produced them in a separate bag. On closer inspection, the nails were actually identified as wheat husk and the complaint filed away under 'pointless'.
Another adviser was presented with a delightful early morning gift when a visitor arrived having driven around 40 miles with a frozen shepherd's pie in his car. It was summertime so, by the time said pie had reached the Trading Standards office, it was well on its way to being defrosted. The complaint? It didn't look like the one on the front of the box. Of course, it wouldn't, given that it was part defrosted. But even so, after carefully noting the complaint, and sending the visitor on his way with a smile, the adviser passed the revolting item to the weights and measures team for them to decide on whether it looked like its photograph.
By far the oddest food-related complaint though was the gentleman who called the Trading Standards Advice Line and complained that his box of boil in the bag fish weighed less than it should. After complaining bitterly to the adviser, the gentleman gave his details and the adviser was just taking down his name and address when the man went very quiet. Sheepishly, he admitted to the adviser, "I'm sorry. I think I may have eaten one of the portions..."
Downright WeirdThe Trading Standards Advice service attracts some strange people. Some that the advisers would probably rather not deal with. One visitor appeared in person and demanded that the advisor investigate a company for supplying hardcore porn – that wasn't hardcore enough. He actually made the adviser look at the magazine which she found humiliating.
One man called the advice line to complain that his sex toy was not fit for its purpose. The adviser didn't want the gory details so she rattled off the Sale of Goods Act and sent him on his way. Within hours, the shop that had sold the toy was on the telephone to another adviser, complaining that the customer was trying to get a refund on a very well-used toy.
And the best of all? Back in the late 1990s, one Trading Standards team was trying to work on educating people about the risks of using loan sharks. They set up a hotline for advice, and also to shop loan sharks confidentially. One day, an adviser took a call from a member of the public who asked, "Is that the Loan Shark hotline?" When she was advised that yes, it was, she asked, "Can you tell me where I can find one....?"