Consumer Advice and Enquiries Policy

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					               Consumer Advice and
                 Enquiries Policy
Mission Statement

The Trading Standards Service forms part of Cultural and Community
Services within Derbyshire County Council and has a responsibility for
seeking compliance with a wide range of legislation intended to protect
both consumers and traders. Our Mission Statement is as follows.

‘Derbyshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service exists to
improve life for local people by supporting local businesses, helping
consumers and tackling unfair and unsafe trading practices.’

Derbyshire Trading Standards Service

The trading standards service is responsible for a wide range of
legislation covering the sale and supply of goods and services. This
includes:

     Preventing false or misleading descriptions – e.g. in relation to
      counterfeit goods, ‘clocked cars’, ‘cowboy builders’ and property
      repairers;
     Inspecting weights and measures equipment to ensure accuracy
      and that goods are of the correct measure – e.g. pre-packed coal,
      petrol, beer etc.;
     Checking that goods supplied in Derbyshire are safe – e.g. toys,
      electrical goods, general consumer products;
     Ensuring that food is safe and complies with labelling and
      composition requirements – use by dates, minimum meat
      content;
     Protecting the welfare of livestock and preventing the spread of
      disease – e.g. foot and mouth, avian flu;
     Preventing the illegal sale of age-restricted products – alcohol,
      cigarettes, fireworks, knives etc.

For further details about Derbyshire’s trading standards service, please
see our website at www.derbyshire.gov.uk/tradingstandards.

                                            CA&EP 7.10




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In addition to enforcing trading standards laws, the service also
provides advice and information to local residents and businesses who
may be in dispute over faulty goods or unsatisfactory services. Working
in partnership with Consumer Direct and local voluntary sector advice
agencies we aim to provide a comprehensive, impartial advice service
to consumers and traders.

Complaints from consumers are a vital source of information which
helps us identify rogue traders and harmful business practices.

We believe that equipping consumers with the knowledge and power to
resolve problems will allow reputable businesses to develop and will
drive out rogue traders.

Consumer Direct




Consumer Direct is now the first point of contact for trading standards
queries. Anyone ringing Derbyshire Trading Standards or Call
Derbyshire on 08456 058 058 will have their call transferred to
Consumer Direct.

Advice from Consumer Direct is free and impartial. Their telephone
number is 08454 04 05 06 and the service is open from;

Monday to Friday: 8.00am to 6.30pm
Saturday:         9.00am to 1pm

Calls to Consumer Direct are charged at no more than four pence per
minute from a BT landline. Call charges from other landline providers or
mobile phones may vary.

Online requests for advice can be submitted via the consumer direct
website at http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk.

We have an arrangement with Consumer Direct which means that they
deal with straightforward requests for advice whilst referring the more
complex cases to our specialist staff for further consideration.



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Because Consumer Direct is a telephone and online advice service we
will offer all levels of advice to consumers who prefer to contact us by
letter or a personal visit to our office.

The cases referred by Consumer Direct can be categorised into two
broad types; those which reveal breaches of the civil law and those
which indicate that criminal offences might have been committed.

Complaints concerning civil breaches of contract (such as poor
workmanship, faulty goods, unsatisfactory service) are dealt with by our
advice and education team.

Complaints concerning possible criminal offences (for example,
misleading prices, unsafe goods and food past its use-by date) are
passed to the most appropriate enforcement team – either Animal
Health, Food & Metrology, Fair Trading or Safety & Road Traffic.

Dealing with Requests for Consumer Advice

Consumer Direct referrals are sent to Trading Standards either for
information or with a commitment to contact the consumer. Where there
is a commitment to contact the consumer we aim to reply within 3
working days.

We deal with civil cases where the consumer is a Derbyshire resident.

We deal with criminal cases where the alleged offence occurs in
Derbyshire.

We will record details of all enquiries we receive, including the name,
address and contact details of the enquirer and any business being
complained about. This information will be recorded, retained and
processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act.

We will not pass on an enquirer’s details to any third party without their
consent. Enquirers can remain anonymous if they prefer.

Our service is free to the user so we will not provide advice to anyone
who we believe will charge someone else for that same advice.

We have to prioritise the cases that we deal with in order to use our
resources in the most effective way. Not every complaint or enquiry gets
dealt with in the same way. We apply a range of criteria to help us focus
on the cases where we can have most impact.



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Advice and Education Team

Civil cases are referred to trading standards from Consumer Direct if:

     They are complex;
     They involve a vulnerable consumer – e.g. cases where there are
      language barriers, where the consumer is elderly or has learning
      difficulties;
     The consumer has followed all the initial advice and is faced with
      the option of incurring additional costs or taking court action to
      progress the complaint;
     The business has been unresponsive to the consumers’ attempts
      to resolve matters; or
     The trading practice may be causing detriment to other
      consumers.

The sort of help that our advice team can provide includes;

       More detailed advice,
       Help with writing letters,
       Negotiation with the trader concerned and
       Help with court paperwork.

Not all of these options will be provided in all cases; we use the
experience and judgement of our advice staff to target our help.

We will not intervene on behalf of a consumer where we feel that they
are fully able to pursue a claim after receiving advice. In these
circumstances we will advise the consumer on their rights and give
practical guidance on how to take effective action to resolve the dispute.

Although we appreciate that any dispute is important to the individuals
concerned, we need to prioritise our resources to focus on those issues
that reveal significant consumer detriment. This means that if the
monetary value in dispute is below £200 we may only provide advice.

Where the amount in dispute is above £200 we may agree to negotiate
directly with the trader in order to seek a resolution.

If the monetary value of the contract in dispute is particularly high we
will provide advice but will also suggest that you seek the advice of a
solicitor. The limit we apply is normally £5,000 because this is the upper
limit that can be recovered through the Small Claims route.



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Where a problem is beyond the remit of trading standards, for example
a health and safety or debt matter, we will identify the most appropriate
body or agency for you to contact.

We work in close partnership with voluntary sector advice agencies
such as Citizens Advice Bureaux and Law Centres and receive
consumer cases from these agencies and other members of Derbyshire
Consumer Support Network and Community Legal Services
Partnership.

We cannot guarantee to resolve all civil law consumer disputes to the
satisfaction of all parties. We will assess the facts and give an opinion
as to the most cost effective way of seeking to resolve a contractual
dispute. However, if the two parties involved in a contract cannot reach
agreement then ultimately, it may be necessary to take the matter to
Court. Only the persons directly involved in a contract can initiate court
action and we are unable to represent either consumers or traders to
take court action.

In certain circumstances we will advise on the preparation of court
paperwork. We will give an opinion as to the likelihood of success but
the final decision will rest with the individual. We may also advise
individuals to seek the advice of a solicitor or other legal advisor.

Enforcement Teams

The service deals with a wide range of criminal legislation which is
intended to ensure that the consumer gets a fair deal and that
businesses act responsibly.

Complaints are referred to our enforcement teams when the
circumstances of the case indicate that a criminal offence might have
been committed. All complaints are important to us; they provide vital
information about current areas of consumer or business detriment in
Derbyshire.

The main purpose of a criminal investigation is to assess the conduct of
the business being complained about. If this conduct falls below the
legal standard then enforcement action can be taken. Possible action
includes; advice and education, letters of warning, cautions, prosecution
and County Court Injunctions.




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Derbyshire Trading Standards Service has a Compliance Policy which
has been approved by Elected Members. It covers all aspects of trading
standards enforcement and is available at:

http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/business/trading_standards/About_us/co
mpliance/default.asp

Some breaches of the criminal law are relatively minor and we will not
investigate all criminal complaints individually. We will record the details
of all complaints and take appropriate action based on our assessment
of the risk to local consumers and legitimate businesses.

In deciding whether to begin a criminal investigation in a particular case
we will consider factors such as;

     Whether the complaint relates to a new trader, who may simply
      need advice and support to put matters right.
     Whether the complaint is covered by one of our annual
      enforcement projects.
     Whether the consumer contacting us belongs to a vulnerable
      group.
     The amount of consumer detriment.
     What we know of the trading history of the business.
     If there is evidence that the trader has acted deliberately or
      recklessly.
     The strength of the available evidence.
     Whether the issue concerns the safety of food.
     Whether the issue concerns the safety of consumer goods.
     Whether the issue concerns the welfare of livestock.
     Whether the complaint relates to one of our current priority areas
      for combating organised criminal activity:
          o Tackling rogue trader activity
          o Reducing the harm caused by smoking and alcohol
          o Helping legitimate businesses to thrive

All criminal investigations have to be conducted in accordance with the
criminal justice legislation and we abide by the Enforcement Concordat
issued by the Cabinet Office and any subsequent guidelines that may
be issued.

Our investigations are kept under review and we may decide that no
further action is possible. This may be because there is insufficient
evidence to support enforcement, or it may be that we feel it is not in the
public interest to take formal action. In these circumstances we will


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contact you to explain our decision. Guidance on our decision making
process is contained in our Compliance Policy.

Investigations are thorough and as such can take a significant time –
sometimes up to a year. We will however, keep you regularly updated of
progress.

Where we feel a prosecution is necessary as a result of a consumer
complaint it will be necessary, under normal circumstances, for the
person making the complaint to provide a witness statement. In some
cases, they may also be required to attend court to give evidence.

Trusted Trader




Derbyshire County Council operates a trusted trader scheme which is
designed to promote reputable businesses and make it easier for
consumers to find a business which will do a good job for a fair price.

Traders who apply to join the scheme are checked by trading standards
and must agree to abide by our code of conduct. Consumers who wish
to find a Trusted Trader can either search online at
www.derbyshire.gov.uk/trustedtrader or ring Call Derbyshire on 08456
058 058.

Consumer Education

A key part of the trading standards role is to provide information to
consumers about their rights as consumers and also to warn local
residents about potential scams or other unfair trading practices. The
Division works closely with County Council Public Relations colleagues
to make local consumers – and businesses – aware of rogue traders
who might be operating in Derbyshire. We proactively publish details of
enforcement action that we have taken and the steps we have taken to
prevent traders from acting against the interests of local consumers.



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We can give talks and presentations to groups on consumer matters.
We deal with each request on its merits but will not normally provide this
service to very small groups. We try to prioritise activities which impact
on the largest number of consumers or are particularly relevant to our
work.

We also provide consumer education to young people at school in
Derbyshire in partnership with education colleagues.

Customer Care Policy

We appreciate that many of the people who seek help from the trading
standards service are frustrated because they have bought goods that
are faulty or have received a poor service from a local trader. Our staff
are sensitive to these frustrations and we will endeavour to be friendly
and helpful at all times when providing our service and will treat
everybody with courtesy and respect.

Derbyshire Trading Standards Service aims to follow the Council’s
‘Putting People First’ Policy as well as our own Service Standards.

The Council’s Putting People First Policy is available on the Council
website at:

http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/council/policies_plans/customer_care_cha
rter/.

Our Service Standards are also available on the Council’s website at
Derbyshire County Council – Our Service Standards.

Equality Statement

We are committed to the principle that all our customers and employees
have the right to equality of opportunity and equity in the way they are
treated and in the services they receive. This means taking into account
issues relating to religion or belief, gender, age, race, disability and
sexuality (ReGARDS). We are committed to ensuring our practices and
services are free from discrimination and prejudice and meet the needs
of our community.

For more details about the Council’s equality policy please contact Call
Derbyshire on 08456 058058 or go to the Derbyshire County Council
website: http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/council/equalities/.




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Feedback

We use customer surveys to check that we are providing the service
you need. Once we have completed your enquiry you may receive a
survey asking for your views about our service. Please take the time
needed to complete this; your views are important to us.

If you are not happy with our service you may contact us to raise your
concerns by telephone, letter, fax, e-mail or in person. If you are not
happy with the explanation given by the person you have been
speaking to, then you should address your concern to a trading
standards team leader.

You can contact us by;

     Telephone: via Call Derbyshire 08456 058 058.
     Letter: Derbyshire County Council, Trading Standards Division,
      Cultural and Community Services, Chatsworth Hall, Chesterfield
      Road, Matlock, DE4 3FW.
     Fax: 01629 536197
     E-mail: trading.standards@derbyshire.gov.uk

Any complaint about our conduct will be investigated in accordance with
the County Council’s Complaints Procedure. Further details available
from Call Derbyshire 08456 058 058 or on the Derbyshire County
Council website:
http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/council/policies_plans/complaints_proced
ure/.

Review

Our Consumer Advice and Enquiries Policy will be reviewed every year.
The review will consider the results of our consultation exercises and
any other feedback received with the aim of improving our service by
changing the way we work.

The results of all consultation exercises are published on our website at
http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/business/trading_standards/About_us/con
sultation/.

We want everyone to understand us. On request, we will arrange:
   Language interpreters, including for sign language
   Translation of written materials into other languages
   Materials in large print, on tape or in Braille.


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