Highland Trading Standards targets Internet sellers

A new survey conducted by Trading Standards Officers from The Highland Council has found two-thirds of websites failing to comply with laws designed to protect on-line buyers.  North consumers are especially dependent on the internet due to the geography of the Highlands and “e-Regulation” is a high priority for the local Trading Standards Service.  One hundred sites based throughout the UK were checked for compliance with Trading Standards laws and a range of problems identified.

The main issues included:

Smaller numbers of sites were found to have other breaches such as hidden charges and missing information.  In total, only 34 were found to fully comply with Trading Standards laws.

The project follows a similar survey carried out in 2006 by Highland Trading Standards and actually suggests an increase in overall levels of non-compliance.  However, account must be taken of a change in the law since then.

Highland Council’s Principal Trading Standards Officer Bob Jones explained: “For several years now, internet sellers have been required to provide consumers with a set of important information, provide full refunds when goods are cancelled within seven days, and not display misleading prices.  Some companies got round the law by “hiding” important information in obscure parts of websites.  New laws now require the information to be prominently displayed so the bar has been raised for internet companies, but in a fair and necessary way.”

There were also positives to be drawn from the project.  Some matters actually showed an improvement from the 2006 survey.  For example the number of websites failing to tell consumers that they have a right to cancel has fallen from over 20% to 9%. 

Other encouraging signs followed the initial inspection of sites and compilation of information found.  Detailed information was passed to a total of 44 local authority Trading Standards departments on the basis of the “home authority” principle where the local Trading Standards takes the lead in investigations.  Feedback has indicated that many of the companies involved have changed their practices to comply after being contacted by Trading Standards.  This is also the experience of Highland officers dealing with north sellers targeted by the project.

Bob Jones added: “Armed with the new set of laws, we think we can make a difference in the vital marketplace of the internet.  Many of the companies who we find breaking the rules do correct matters quickly after we contact them.  We wish to help foster a vibrant on-line marketplace which gives great opportunities for north businesses and the Highland economy.  Central to this must be fair and transparent selling practices.”

The Council’s Head of Environmental Health and Trading Standards Alistair Thomson said: “Highland consumers are fed up with websites that have hidden charges or don’t display delivery costs properly.  At best, this results in a lot of wasted time for the public.  At worst, it involves consumers being misled and deceived into paying higher charges.  My officers will continue to target internet sellers who flout the law.”

Advice and information on Distance Selling and other consumer rights is available from Trading Standards’ partner organisation Consumer Direct Scotland, on telephone 08454 040506 or website www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/.  Information about businesses who may be breaking the rules can be reported to Consumer Direct, or directly to Highland Trading Standards on 01463 228700 or consumer.advice@highland.gov.uk.

26 Nov 2009