A new report paints a disturbing picture of what appears to be almost non-existent supervision of agents by Trading Standards.
It suggests that budget cuts have heralded an era where rogue businesses could operate completely untroubled by the thought of a knock on the door.
The report says that letting agents – it does not mention sales agents at all – have priority below take-away restaurants, animal health and secondhand cars.
The report into highly pressurised Trading Standards – which have responsibility for the enforcement of agents with powers to prosecute – says that letting agents are at the very bottom of priorities.
The report by University of Birmingham researchers, which specifically looks at the effects of huge budget cuts on the service, puts doorstep crime, under-age sales, food safety, protection of vulnerable people, product safety and animal health at the top of Trading Standards’ priorities.
Next come fake goods, intellectual property, weights and measures, used cars, advice to businesses, e-crime, payday lending and legal highs.
At the very bottom come letting agents who might, for example, come to the attention of Trading Standards if they misappropriate tenants’ deposits, operate rental scams, fail to display their fees, or are not signed up to a redress scheme.
Sales agents are not even mentioned on the list, although the National Trading Estate Agency Standards Team of Powys County Council is the regulator of UK agents under the Estate Agents Act 1979.
The report says that the “new reality” is that most businesses do not see a Trading Standards officer “from one year to the next”.
The report also quotes feedback which shows the extent to which Trading Standards departments have been affected by cutbacks.
- All work is [now] risk-assessed and cases are only investigated if a threshold is reached.
- There is a drive towards a commercial approach to generate income to balance on-going reduction in budgets.
- We now send only one letter to a trader [and thereafter] the consumer must pursue the complaint.
- The number of enforcement projects has been reduced.
The (very long) report is here