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Trading Standards Officer

Trading Standards Officer

Tell me about it
Trading Standards Officers (TSOs) usually work within local government, enforcing the law and regulations that govern goods and services which we buy, hire and sell. They champion the rights of the consumer by making sure that they are not being cheated, which could involve anything from checking the scales of a local trader to testing the claims made about a product by its manufacturer or importer.

They might take samples of pre-packed food to ensure that the correct weight is shown; they might check weighing machines, beer and spirit measures and labelling. Another important aspect would be identifying potential hazards or unsafe products.
Sometimes a case may involve action in the criminal court, requiring them to investigate possible criminal offences and attend as a witness or present cases in the Magistrates Court. Although they have to write up reports in an office, they also spend a lot of time out in the local community.

The exact nature of the work would vary according to location. In a rural area, they might spend much time on animal health ensuring, for example, proper transport of livestock to market. As a city-based officer, they could be more concerned with street traders and problems of counterfeit goods. In a port, they might work with customs to vet imported goods.

Entry level
The most direct entry route is via a degree accredited by the Trading Standards Institute and then a trainee trading standards officer post. Five universities offer approved degrees: Manchester Metropolitan, Nottingham Trent (foundation degree), Teesside, University of Wales Institute Cardiff, and Queen Margaret Edinburgh. Local authorities sometimes sponsor students on these courses. Trainee TSO vacancies with local authorities are also open to graduates of any subject via a postgraduate diploma course, although a degree in law, retail management or food science may improve your chances. There is currently one accredited postgraduate diploma course offered full- and part-time at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Making the grade
In order to qualify fully as a TSO, you must hold the Diploma in Consumer and Trading Standards (DCATS), which normally takes 18 months to complete. There are four levels to this qualification, starting with the Foundation Certificate. The accredited degree/diploma route provides exemptions from the first three levels of examinations, but students without an accredited degree will need to have passed the foundation certificate and to have gained 40 points from the second level. The fourth level is the Higher Diploma.

A programme of continuing professional development would normally be arranged by your employer to enable you to continue updating your knowledge and skills.

There should be a clear promotion structure, and you could advance from senior officer to section head, divisional officer, and then to principal or chief trading standards officer. You might need to relocate to develop your career, as departments tend to be small.

Personal qualities
You would need to be convinced that trading and consumer laws are important and need to be enforced, a good communicator, including being a sympathetic listener, interested in helping people and a person who enjoys responsibility and challenge.

You must be calm, controlled and level-headed, a problem solver and initiative taker, and a person who enjoys using science, technology and statistics in a practical way. Good powers of observation would be essential.

Looking ahead
There are increasing controls and regulations and consumers are complaining more, so there is plenty of work to be done.  Local authority budgets have, however, been reduced and finding a training place can be very difficult. You may choose to develop your career by moving into the private sector, where you might advise on quality control or consumer law in the food or retail sectors.

Alternative suggestions
Other possibilities might include environmental health officer, health and safety officer, local government administrator or police officer

Take-home pay
As a trainee trading standards officer, you are likely to earn £16,000 to £22,000, rising to £27,000 to £37,000 when qualified. With annual increments, you should eventually be at the top of a scale currently ranging from £25,000 to £27,000. Senior managers may earn considerably more, usually around £50,000 to £70,000. For further information about salaries for particular positions, contact your local council directly.
Private sector opportunities are usually paid at senior manager level and above.

Trading standards officers usually work 37 hours a week, although some unsociable working hours may be necessary. This is due to longer trading hours for licensed premises, such as pubs and clubs, and retail activities operating seven days a week.

Sources of information
Trading Standards Institute:
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for Northern Ireland:
Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government:
Consumer Focus:
Local Better Regulation Office:
Contact your local authority and ask to speak to the manager of the trading standards department.




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