In the UK there are laws to protect people against unscrupulous traders. Trading standards officers work on behalf of local government to enforce these laws, and make sure people and businesses understand their rights and obligations. Issues they may address include fake designer-label goods, food that is unsafe to eat, short measures of alcohol or petrol, poor quality repairs and other services, and toys or appliances that could harm users.
Trading standards officers have a broad range of responsibilities, and job descriptions can vary widely. Typical duties include:
Trading standards officers work with other law enforcement agencies including the police, fire service, HM Revenue and Customs, and health and safety officials.
Trading standards officers usually work 37 hours a week on a flexitime system. Visiting pubs, restaurants, shops and markets usually involves some evening and weekend work.
Trading standards officers are usually office based, but spend most of their time visiting business premises. They work in a wide range of locations ranging from farms and factories to nightclubs and law courts. Some of the places they investigate can be dirty and unhygienic.
A driving licence is useful for travelling between different work locations, and may be required.
Starting salaries may be around £24,000 a year.
Most trading standards officers work for local authorities. Some are employed by private consultancies, central government or large organisations involved in activities such as retailing or food manufacture, where they advise on consumer law, and quality management and control.
There are around 5,000 trading standards officers in the UK. Almost half of the UK's local authorities report problems in recruiting candidates for these positions, so employment prospects are good. There are opportunities in urban and rural areas throughout the UK.
Vacancies are advertised in local and national newspapers, on the websites and jobs bulletins of individual local authorities, and at www.tscareers.org.uk.
There are a number of routes into a career as a trading standards officer:
Full and part-time trading standards degree courses, accredited by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI), are offered by a number of UK universities. Some sandwich courses combining study with work placements are available. Details of accredited courses can be found at www.tscareers.org.uk.
Entry requirements may vary and candidates are advised to check with individual institutions. Applicants usually need a minimum of two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English, maths and a science, or equivalent qualifications. It may be possible to apply to a local authority for sponsorship before starting a degree course.
Graduates of other degree courses may apply to study an accredited Graduate Diploma in Trading Standards course at Manchester Metropolitan University. The course lasts one year full time or two years part time. Entrants require at least a 2.2 degree. Some candidates may be required to take a preparatory short course in foundation law, via distance learning.
Non-graduates can join a local authority trading standards department as an enforcement officer or consumer adviser, and study for professional qualifications in trading standards while working.
To become a fully qualified trading standards officer, new entrants must work towards TSI professional qualifications in consumer affairs and trading standards. There are four levels:
People with a TSI-accredited degree or diploma begin their study at one of the higher levels. Candidates are assessed through examinations and a portfolio of evidence.
Trading standards officers are also encouraged to become members of TSI and follow a programme of Continuing Professional Development.
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A trading standards officer should:
In local authorities there is a formal route from technical and assistant level to consumer adviser and then trading standards officer. It may be possible to progress to principal or senior officer and managerial positions, although people may need to change employers to gain promotion.
There may be some opportunities to move to other local government departments including environmental health, planning or building control, or to work for large retail or manufacturing companies, or central government.
Some experienced trading standards officers become self-employed, offering consultancy services to businesses.
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.