Trading standards officers (TSO) 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.

They generally work for local councils, advising on consumer law and investigating complaints, but can also be employed in the private sector.

TSOs are also involved in preventing, detecting and prosecuting offences. They 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

Activities vary depending on whether you are involved in all aspects of trading standards work, or whether you specialise in a particular area, but may involve:

  • visiting trading premises, e.g. pubs, petrol stations, factories and markets, in order to carry out routine tests or in response to a complaint;
  • checking weighing machines and food labels in shops;
  • checking beer and spirit measures in pubs;
  • ensuring the correct transport of livestock to market;
  • dealing with traders selling faulty goods;
  • identifying potential hazards, such as unsafe electrical goods or unroadworthy vehicles;
  • checking that advertisements and labels accurately describe the properties of the products;
  • taking samples for laboratory analysis;
  • offering business advice to help traders comply with legislation;
  • investigating suspected offences, sometimes undercover and with the police or other agencies;
  • presenting evidence at court in criminal proceedings;
  • giving legal advice to members of the public about their consumer rights;
  • keeping up to date with new legislation, new cases and guidance procedures;
  • educating consumers and businesses, which may involve giving talks to schools, businesses and various consumer and vulnerable adult groups;
  • writing reports, statements, letters, articles and consultation documents and keeping accurate records.

Salary

  • Salaries for trainee trading standards officer (TSO) positions typically range from £19,000 to £23,000.
  • Local government TSOs might expect to earn £24,000 to £35,000.
  • For senior TSOs salaries typically range from £30,000 to £50,000.
  • Salaries for experienced managers in the private sector can rise to around £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

TSOs usually work a 37-hour week. This may occasionally include some unsocial hours in order to visit premises such as nightclubs and Sunday 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

  • Although the role of a TSO is essentially office-based, there is also a lot of outdoor work, including site visits, events to raise awareness and advisory work in schools.
  • TSOs may work alone within defined local authority boundaries, but can also work in a team and with other authorities, primarily the police force.
  • Opportunities exist in local authorities throughout the UK.
  • Experienced TSOs 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.
  • Protective clothing may be required when visiting building sites, for example. Smart dress is required for court visits.
  • Travel within a working day is common as a considerable amount of time is spent visiting traders.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to graduates of all degree disciplines, a degree in consumer protection or law may be particularly useful.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has accredited a number of universities offering consumer protection degrees. Both these and qualifying law degrees offer exemptions from elements of the professional qualifications needed to become a trading standards officer (TSO).

See the CTSI website for details of accredited universities and exemption rules.

Trainees combine study with paid employment to complete a range of professional qualifications on the Trading Standards Qualification Framework (TSQF) in accordance with their existing qualifications and experience and the needs of the employer.

Entry without a degree is possible for those with a good standard of education.

Postgraduate study is not essential.

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

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • 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;
  • good practical ability;
  • attention to detail;
  • determination and resilience;
  • 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;
  • tact and diplomacy.

As TSOs are required to enforce the law, an understanding of the implications of regulation on business is essential. They also need to be diplomatic, firm and resilient in order to cope with occasional aggression.

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. There is a 'students seeking placements' section on the CTSI website for students who are looking for placements to gain professional experience within trading standards.

Employers

rading standards officers (TSOs) who provide a public trading standards service are employed by local authorities, including 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.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Graduate trainee trading standards officers (TSOs) learn on the job while studying for CTSI professional qualifications.

These qualifications come under the Trading Standards Qualification Framework (TSQF) and awards are offered at three main levels:

  • Core Skills in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards (CSCATS);
  • Diploma in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards (DCATS);
  • Higher Diploma in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards (HDCATS).

Certificates of Competence for specialist officers and individual module certificates for each module within the DCATS are also offered.

Each award is assessed via an examination and a portfolio of skills competence, demonstrating competency in practical work. See the CTSI website for full details.

Keeping up to date with changes to the profession is important and TSOs are encouraged to take part in the CTSI voluntary Continuous Professional and Personal Development (CPPD) scheme. This covers activities such as 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 training, a typical career path for a trading standards officer (TSO) is:

  • 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.

Opportunities beyond senior TSO grade are limited for those unable to relocate geographically.

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

Opportunities exist in private industry in areas such as retail and manufacturing, advising on consumer law or quality control.

Some TSOs become consultants, running their own business or advising large companies. Experienced TSOs can sometimes obtain contract work via specialist employment agencies, while some move into education and lecture in consumer protection.

There are some opportunities to work abroad.