Laws branded 'toothless' amid huge decline in Trading Standards prosecutions
PUBLISHED: 14:55 02 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:16 02 August 2019
A near halving of Trading Standards' budget has seen the number of successful prosecutions plummet - amid fears serious crimes are going unpunished.
Figures obtained by this newspaper show Essex County Council's Trading Standards (TS) budget has dropped from £2m to £1.1m in the last five years, while the number of successful prosecutions fell from 33 to just eight.
Prosecutions five years ago included crimes such as traders selling fake cancer cures, dangerous storage of fireworks, and the death of 14,000 chickens due to heatstroke, giving rise to concerns that similar cases are today flying under the radar.
The council said some of the reduction may be explained by changes which saw Weight Restriction Order investigation handled by highways team, as well as the delays in prosecutions for complex cases.
But the decline in resources has become a big concern in the county. The Labour group at ECC has labelled them "pretty dangerous" and "concerning".
Nationally, Age UK has warned the cuts were endangering millions of older people.
The charity's Applying the Brakes report says TS services are important in tackling fraud but severe budget cuts, and a 56% reduction in TS officers since 2009, had damaged their ability to act.
Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said: "However tough our laws are to prevent and combat fraud, they are pretty toothless if the staff just aren't there to enforce them."
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Suffolk County Council's Trading Standards budget has fallen less sharply, from £1.8m to £1.6m in the same time period. And although the number of successful prosecutions also fell from 12 in 2014/15 to eight in 2017/18, the figure increase last year to 10.
Despite this, some victims left out of pocket by companies have criticised TS's response to their complaints.
Isobel Dide Siemmond, who complained about a building supplier after being left out of pocket for a new home that was left unfinished, said she was frustrated by the lack of response after lodging complaints about the company earlier this year.
Suffolk TS said it gave "careful consideration" to Ms Siemmond's complaint before referring it to the local TS where the company was based.
A spokesman said it was dedicated to preventing and tackling crime against residents and businesses working with partners.
TS said it seized nearly £1m of unsafe goods had helped raise awareness of scams by recruiting 688 consumer champions to share information.