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Civil and other enforcement

Trading Standards enforcement now seems to increasinly rely upon the use of Enforcement Orders under the Enterprise Act 2002, whereby a number of enforcement bodies can apply to the courts to stop traders infringing a wide range of consumer protection legistlation where those infringements harm the collective interests of consumers.

Part 8 of the Enterprise Act replaced part III of the Fair Trading Act 1973 and Stop Now Orders (EC Directive) Regulations 2001. Enforcement orders are similar to injunctions. Breach of an Order is a contempt of court and can result in a fine or imprisonment.

The BIS website sets out a list of those bodies who are entitled to exercise Part 8 Powers.  Click here for a full list .

There are three categories of enforcement bodies.

  • General Enforcers such as the Office of Fair Trading and the Trading Standards.
  • Designated Enforcers such as the Civil Aviation Authority, the FSA and OFCOM
  • Community Enforcers from other EU countries.

Part 8 gives enforcers greater powers to obtain court orders against businesses that do not comply with their legal obligations to consumers, but Part 8 can only be used where there is harm to a group of consumers.

The Office of Fair Trading publishes a web site containing information about Part 8 enforcement action. Click here to go to the website. There is a full list of all enforcement action taken around the country that is searchable by area, subject and company name. 

Recent examples of enforcement include:

We Buy Any Car Ltd t/a where the conclusion was

'We found a lack of transparency in dealing with consumers, in particular in relation to the status and nature of the online vehicle valuation. Once consumers had invested their time in taking their vehicle to the onsite inspection, they discovered that the final valuation might be reduced for reasons that they had not been told about, such as current market conditions. We also had concerns about other aspects of the company's sales process'

Interim enforcement orders were obtained against Personal Travel Group Limited (PTG), Geo Demographic Market Research Limited (GDMR) and two individuals who are directors of PTG and were directors of Incentive Leisure Group Limited (ILG). Final enforcement orders were obtained against five individuals associated with PTG and GDMR, one of whom was also a former director of ILG.

'The OFT has obtained enforcement orders in the High Court against two companies and seven individuals stopping them using sales and marketing practices the OFT considers to be misleading or otherwise unlawful when selling and marketing holiday club memberships and other holiday based products.

The OFT was concerned that holders of timeshare products attended presentations on the promise of being able to dispose of their timeshares, with their maintenance charges, when in fact they were subjected to lengthy and high pressure sales pitches to be sold expensive holiday club memberships costing large sums, in some cases up to £12,000. Sales staff told these holders they could get back up to 95 per cent of these sums under a 'reclaim' scheme but did not explain the restrictions that applied, and often played on their fears that their children would otherwise be liable for timeshare maintenance fees. Many consumers subsequently wished to cancel their holiday club memberships but were not allowed to'.

Investigation into 5 online gold trading companies.

'included (i) concern that consumers were unfairly pressured into selling their gold , due to the companies' business practice of sending out payments to consumers and requiring them to reject and return these payments within what appeared to be restrictive time periods, failing which their gold is melted down (ii) misleading price advertising combined with a lack of price transparency; consumers did not have sufficient information on the prices offered or paid for gold (iii) a lack of transparency regarding other key matters, such as the insurance arrangements on sending and returning the gold and whether gemstones were purchased, returned or at risk of damage as part of the service.'

Click here for a full list of recent decisions.

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