You'll need excellent observation and investigative skills, as well as attention to detail, to be a good trading standards officer

As a trading standards officer (TSO) you'll act on behalf of consumers and businesses to advise on, and enforce, laws that govern the way goods and services are bought, sold and hired.

Most work is found within local councils, where you'll advise on consumer law and investigate complaints, but you can also be employed in the private sector.

You will be involved in preventing, detecting and prosecuting offences. You'll need to liaise with agencies including the police, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), Citizens Advice, trade organisations and legal professionals.

Areas of work vary but may include:

  • agriculture
  • animal welfare
  • commercial fraud
  • counterfeiting
  • credit and loans
  • product labelling
  • safety and pricing
  • underage selling
  • weights and measures.

Responsibilities

The work you carry out will depend on whether you're involved in all aspects of trading standards work, or whether you specialise in a particular area. In general, you'll need to:

  • visit trading premises, e.g. pubs, petrol stations, shops, factories and markets, in order to carry out routine tests or to respond to a complaint
  • carry out checks on things such as weighing machines and food labels in shops, beer and spirit measures in pubs and transport of livestock to market
  • deal with traders selling faulty goods
  • identify potential hazards, such as unsafe electrical goods or unroadworthy vehicles
  • check that advertisements and labels accurately describe the properties of the products
  • take samples for laboratory analysis
  • offer business advice to help traders comply with legislation
  • investigate suspected offences, sometimes undercover and with the police or other agencies
  • present evidence at court in criminal proceedings
  • give legal advice to members of the public about their consumer rights
  • keep up to date with new legislation, new cases and guidance procedures
  • educate consumers and businesses, which may involve giving talks to schools, businesses and various consumer and vulnerable adult groups
  • write reports, statements, letters, articles and consultation documents and keep accurate records.

Salary

  • Salaries for trainee trading standards officers (TSO) within local government typically range from £19,000 to £21,000.
  • Once fully trained, TSOs can earn £23,000 to £34,000.
  • For senior TSOs salaries typically range from £34,000 to £50,000.
  • Salaries within the private sector may be higher and experienced senior TSO managers have the potential to earn up to £90,000.

Salaries vary depending on the type of work (e.g. local council or contract work) and location.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You will typically work 37 hours per week. This may occasionally include some unsocial hours in order to visit premises such as nightclubs and weekend markets. Flexi-time systems often operate.

Part-time and job-share work is usually available. Career breaks are possible, particularly in larger authorities, although you will need to keep up to date with changing legislation.

What to expect

  • You'll essentially be office-based but will have to spend a considerable amount of time travelling for site and trader visits, court appearances and attendance at events to raise awareness.
  • Protective clothing may be required when visiting building sites, for example. Smart dress is required for court visits.
  • You may work alone within defined local authority boundaries, but you could also work in a team and with other authorities, primarily the police force.
  • Opportunities exist in local authorities throughout the UK.
  • With significant experience you may work on a self-employed basis offering consultancy services to large companies.
  • Secondments are sometimes possible, for example to national authorities or regulatory bodies such as the Food Standards Agency.

Qualifications

You can become a trading standards officer (TSO) with any degree. Related degrees such as law, or any subject that has elements or modules on consumer protection, may be particularly helpful. Such degrees may provide exemption from some of the professional exams, which are offered by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).

It is also possible to enter the career without a degree as long as you have a good standard of education. Postgraduate qualifications are not needed.

It is usual to start out as a trainee where you'll combine study with paid employment to complete a range of professional qualifications on the Trading Standards Qualification Framework (TSQF). The levels of training you'll complete will depend on your existing qualifications and experience, as well as the needs of the employer.

This area of work is attractive to career changers looking for a move into trading standards.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • excellent written and oral communication skills and the ability to talk to people from many different backgrounds
  • competent analytical and investigative skills and keen observation
  • determination and resilience, particularly when dealing with traders who may become hostile
  • attention to detail when investigating potential issues
  • the ability to organise and manage projects
  • the ability to work both as a part of a team and also on your own initiative
  • competence in using IT and dealing with statistics for record keeping
  • tact and diplomacy when dealing with investigations
  • an understanding of the implications of regulation on businesses when enforcing the law.

A full driving licence and access to a car is usually required.

Work experience

Previous experience in related areas such as legal, retail or advice work is useful. You'll be dealing with the general public quite a lot, so experience that demonstrates your people skills is helpful.

Local authorities offer work experience and many have opportunities within their trading standards teams. This will provide a valuable insight into the work carried out and the skills required for the job. Contact individual councils for details.

Employers

Local authorities are one of the main employers of TSOs. This includes local, regional and county councils (or the Trading Standards Service in Northern Ireland).

The trading standards service is often located in larger departments within local government, such as community protection, environmental health and the chief executive's office. Because of this, the designated responsibilities of TSOs differ from department to department, as does the budget allocation and management structure.

Examples of opportunities outside the trading standards service include licensing management for local authorities and quality/consumer law advisers for supermarkets, national retail outlets and manufacturers.

Look for job vacancies at:

A small number of specialist agencies, such as Kenyon Block Consultants, recruit experienced TSOs, primarily for contract work.

Professional development

As a trainee TSO you'll learn on the job while studying for CTSI professional qualifications.

These come under the Trading Standards Qualification Framework (TSQF) and include:

  • Core Skills in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards (CSCATS) - has exams in legal systems, consumer protection environment and law of contract.
  • Diploma in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards (DCATS) - must pick four modules from a selection of areas including fair trading, legal metrology, animal health, product safety, intellectual property and more.

Each award is assessed via an exam and a portfolio of skills competence, demonstrating competency in practical work. For full details see CTSI Qualifications.

Keeping up to date with changes to the profession is important and you're encouraged to take part in the CTSI Continuous Professional and Personal Development (CPPD) scheme.

CTSI regularly offer study modules online to its members, which when completed result in a CPPD certificate. Relevant activities also include attendance at conferences, seminars and training events, conducting research, undertaking work shadowing and reading industry publications such as TS Today.

Members of the CTSI with the appropriate qualifications and experience can apply for chartered trading standards practitioner (CTSP) status.

Career prospects

Following your training, a typical career path looks like this:

  • trading standards officer (TSO)
  • senior TSO
  • section head or team leader
  • divisional officer or manager
  • chief or principal TSO.

There are limited opportunities within local authorities for progression beyond principal trading standards officer grade, although developing a specialist area of work in a large local authority is possible. It may be difficult to progress past the senior TSO grade if you're unable to relocate.

Career development can also include moving into a general management position in a larger local government department.

You may wish to move into the private sector where opportunities exist in areas such as retail and manufacturing, advising on consumer law or quality control.

It is possible to become a consultant, running your own business or advising large companies. As an experienced TSO, you could obtain contract work via specialist employment agencies, or move into education and lecture in consumer protection.

There are some opportunities to work abroad.