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Business advice FAQs

Please click on the following topics to be taken to the example Frequently Asked Questions on that subject area. If you cannot find an answer to a specific question your local Trading Standards service will be able to help you. 

Civil - Goods

A customer has brought back a faulty item, do I have to give a refund?

When buying goods they must be of satisfactory quality: generally free from faults, fit for their usual purpose, of a reasonable appearance, safe and durable. For a short period after purchase the consumer would be entitled to a full refund; after a longer period they would be entitled to a repair, replacement or partial refund. Shops cannot simply say they do not give refunds, and if they display notices saying this they are likely to be committing a criminal offence.

Can a customer return goods for a refund if they decide they do not like them?

No, there is no legal right to a refund unless the goods are faulty or were wrongly described. However, there is nothing to stop you offering a refund in such circumstances as a matter of goodwill. 

One of my customers owes me money, but refuse to pay, what can I do in these circumstances?

As long as you are happy that there is no valid reason for them to withhold money, you can sue in the county court to recover what they owe. Subject to financial limits you will be able to use the small claims procedure, which is designed for claimants to use themselves without the need for lawyers. The Court Service publishes guidance specifically to assist small businesses which you can download.

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Doorstep Selling - General

Any receipts that are given do not need to be pre-printed, but it (and any other paperwork used) must state the names of the owners of the business together with a contact address.

Where goods or services costing more than £42 are sold following a unsolcited or solicited call to somebody's house, the customer has 14 days in which to change their mind and cancel the agreement.  There is a requirement that this Cancellation Notice of 14 days is given in writing at the time that the contract is made.  The law sets out the information that must be included and the format in which it must be presented. An offence is committed if the notice is not given or if it is given without the required information in the correct format.

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Distance Selling

I sell from a website, are there any special rules?

Yes, internet sales are subject to the same 'distance selling' provisions as mail or phone orders. These allow the consumer a 14 day 'cooling off' period to examine goods. They can return the goods for a full refund as long as they notify you of their wish to cancel within fourteen days and return the goods in the same condition as they were delivered to them. You can require them to pay the cost of returning them to you. You are not allowed to make a 'restocking charge' or anything similar.

This provision is in addition to sale of goods rights and does not affect consumers' rights to a refund or repair for faulty goods.

Web retailers are also required to provide certain details including their name and geographical address and confirmation of any orders to buy goods or services.

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Fair Trading

I run a market stall and am often offered brand name goods to sell, how can I be sure they are genuine?

Buy your stock only from reputable wholesalers and ensure you have a receipt describing the goods. Do not buy goods from people who approach your stall, no matter how good a bargain it seems. Bear in mind that some brands are only ever sold in their own shops. Some other brands are very restrictive about who sells their brand and the goods are unlikely ever to be on sale in a general wholesalers or from the back of a van.  

I run a small CD and DVD shop, I lose business to market and boot sale traders selling counterfeits, what can I do?

The impact on local retailers is one of the reasons that trading standards takes counterfeiting so seriously. It is also something that the courts recognise when they are dealing with counterfeiters. If you have concerns about particular traders or particular markets or sales then please contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506. You can leave information anonymously.

I sell alcohol and cigarettes and rent out DVDs, I find it difficult to judge customers' ages, what should I do to check their age?

Always ask for photo ID. If you are in any doubt about a customer's age you should refuse the sale. Make sure you give your staff clear, written instructions about your policy and display signs telling them what ages apply to which products. You may also want to keep a refusals book noting each time a sale was declined. Further advice can be found on the Underage Sales pages.

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Firework Safety

Can I sell sparklers to children?

No. You cannot sell any fireworks to anyone under the age of 18. Any sparklers that you have for sale should be marked "Warning: Not to be given to children under five years of age".

Do I need a licence to sell fireworks?

Retailers of fireworks must be licensed and comply with storage requirements. You can apply for a licence by contacting your local authority.

I have been offered some fireworks that are only labelled in French, can I sell them?

No. All fireworks on sale in the UK must comply with British Standard BS 7114:1988 and will be labelled with the standard number. All safety warnings and instructions must be in English. Fireworks that are intended for markets outside the UK may not comply with our stringent safety standards and may not be safe to use. Please contact the Trading Standards service so that they can investigate.

I sell fireworks to people putting on displays at their local pub or club, can I sell them Category 4 fireworks?  

Fireworks fall into one of four categories. Category 4 fireworks are for professional use only and can only be sold to people who will use them in their trade or business.  Such fireworks will be labelled “This device must not be sold to, or used by, a member of the public.” You will need to make sure that the purchaser is a professional. Don’t take his word for it; always ask to see some proof of his business and of his qualifications.

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Food and Agriculture

I run a pet shop and sell small bags of petfood that I weigh up from bulk sacks, do I need to label the small bags?

Providing the small bags weigh less than 10kg you do not need to label each individually. However, the nutritional information contained on the bulk bags must be available to customers so you could either display the small bags in the bulk sack or copy the information from the bulk sack and display it on the shelf edge. The only label that would then have to be applied to the small bag would be an indication of its weight. The weight should be a metric quantity and you must use suitable scales - contact your local weights and measures inspectors in the trading standards service for further guidance on this issue.

I've bought some animal feed which I think is off, what should I do?

You should contact your specialist agricultural officers. You will need to provide details of when and where you bought the animal feed along with any batch code and any other labelling information. The officers will then investigate and advise as appropriate

I've bought some fertiliser that has damaged my crop, what should I do?

You should contact your specialist agricultural officers. You will need to provide details of when and where you bought the fertiliser along with any batch code and any other labelling information. The officers will then investigate and advise as appropriate

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Food Safety

Can I sell food once it is past its 'use by' date or 'best before' date? It is illegal to sell foods past their 'use by' date.  However, you may sell food past its 'best before' date if the quality is still satisfactory. You may need to test this food in some way before you carry on selling it. You must not alter the dates on food, only the manufacturer can do this.Do I need to register my premises with Trading Standards? It is a legal requirement to register your food premises. You need to contact an Environmental Health Officer at your Local Authority to do this.How often is my business likely to be inspected? If you are making foods it may be once a year.  If you are a caterer or retailer it can vary between two and five years depending on the size of your business and the type of food you are selling.What areas do inspectors look at?

If you are manufacturing food, officers will look at recipes, raw ingredients, storage of ingredients and finished product, quality control, the production process and labelling and presentation of the product. In non-manufacturing premises, officers are primarily concerned with the labelling and descriptions of food, stock control and the safety of containers and utensils used to display and serve food.

How much detail do I need to provide about dishes on the menu in my restaurant?

There are no strict rules on this but you should try and provide as much information as possible so that the consumer can make an informed choice.

The descriptions must not be misleading. For example, something described as a 'homemade steak and kidney pie' should not be bought in, ingredients described as local produce should be from the local area and 'reformed' scampi or meat should be described as such. 

I make various foods such as jam, meat pies and chocolates to sell in my delicatessen, are there minimum compositional standards for these foods?

Yes, detailed guidance leaflets can be downloaded from the Trading Standards Institute website using the links on the Food Safety Regulations page.

Is there a risk of catching avian influenza from eating eggs and poultry?

We appreciate that there may be concerns about the consumption of poultry meat and eggs. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advice, that avian influenza does not pose a food safety risk for people in the UK, remains unchanged. 

The FSA advises consumers to follow good hygiene practices and ensure food is cooked properly. Further infromation is available on the Food Standards Agency website.  

What are the rules about the way I describe the origin of meat in my butcher's shop?

With the exception of beef, it is not compulsory to state the origin of any meat. However, if you do give an origin it must be accurate. In the case of beef, you have to comply with the beef labelling scheme. Detailed guidance on the scheme can be found on the Trading Standards Institute website using the link on the Food Safety Regulations page.

What is the difference between use by, best before and sell by dates?

Use by dates are applied to foods that are perishable and may cause food poisoning if consumed after that date. It is a criminal offence to sell, or display in your shop, food past its use by date. Best Before dates are applied to foods that will not cause food poisoning if consumed after the date. Food can be sold past its best before date if it is still of satisfactory quality. It is an offence to sell eggs beyond their sell by date. In all other cases, sell by dates are used as a stock control measure and have no legal standing.  

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Food - Labelling and Composition

I run a small shop and am confused about the labelling I should use on food, what is required? 

Prepacked food requires full labelling including the name of the food, an ingredients list, use by or best before date, manufacturer’s or importer’s name and address, storage and use instructions and nutritional labelling. It is the manufacturer’s or importer’s responsibility to ensure this labelling is satisfactory.

If you sell loose fruit and vegetables then you need only to display their name, and in the case of potatoes and melons their variety.

If you sell unwrapped meat products, including pies, pasties, burgers, sausages and sausage rolls, you must display a notice giving the meat content of each product as a percentage of the total product. Your supplier will be able to provide you with this information.

If you sell loose eggs you will need to display a notice stating their size (XL, L, M or S), their class (all retail eggs must be class A), the registration number of the packing station, their best before date (this is 28 days after the date they were laid - you must not sell them more than 21 days after the date they were laid), storage instructions (‘keep refrigerated’), their origin if they are from outside the EC and the method of farming used (free range, semi-intensive, perchery/barn or deep litter). Your supplier should provide you with this information.

If you sell any other unwrapped food, for example, cakes or bread, you only need to display a notice giving details of the additives they contain.

If you are unsure about the way you should label or describe a particular product please contact our specialist food officers on 01609 768600. You can also find guidance leaflets using the web links on the Food Labelling and Composition page. 

What information should be on food labels help people eat a balanced diet?

Prepacked food must give detailed nutritional information. You should find listed the energy (k calories), protein, carbohydrate (including sugars), fat (including saturated fat), dietary fibre and sodium in the food. The label should also list all the ingredients (including additives) in descending order of weight. Where an ingredient is the main part of the food or is given special emphasis on the packaging, the percentage of that ingredient in the food must also be given.

In the case of food sold unwrapped, or for bread, cakes etc sold in clear packaging, the retailer only has to display details of the additives included in the food. 

More and more food features some sort of claim on the label. what are the rules about this?

Labels are not allowed to claim that food can treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. A few other specific claims are prohibited, but generally claims are allowed as long as they are true and do not mislead.

You should think about what the label is really saying. For example, many labels advertise food as ‘85% fat free’ and so on. Whilst this is true, it still means the food contains 15% fat. Lower fat foods may also contain more sugar, so claims should be read alongside the nutritional labelling.

The Food Standards Agency website has more information on claims and labelling.

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Product Safety

I have imported some lamps from America that are fitted with a 2-pin plug, can I sell them like this?

No, you can’t. All electrical items sold in the UK that are intended to be connected to the mains supply by means of a plug must be fitted with a standard 3-pin plug in order to comply with BS 1363 (i.e. both the live and neutral pins must be sleeved and be approriately fused). You have a choice of two actions, if you don’t want to send the lamps back to France. You can either replace the plugs with correctly fitted and fused 3-pin plugs or you can fit a conversion plug to each item. This conversion plug will fully encase the 2-pin plug and should be of a type that cannot be removed without the use of a too.

Further information can be obtained from the BIS (Formerly DTI).

I make simple wooden toys, which I sell at craft markets, I know that they are safe, but do I need to have them tested?

No you do not, but you do need to make sure that they are safe. Usually hand-made wooden toys are safe as each one is carefully made and all splinters and rough edges are smoothed away. Some simple wooden vehicles have been shown to be unsafe in the past because the wheels can be easily removed and they then present a choking hazard to small children. You may need to have your wheels tested. You will also need to make sure that any paints and varnishes you use are suitable for use on toys.  

All toys that you supply in the course of a business must be marked with the name and address of the manufacturer or importer, and the CE mark.  The CE mark is a declaration by the manufacturer or importer that the toy is safe and these marks must be on the toy or its packaging, and be permanent and easy to read.  On small toys these marks may be on a label attached to the toy, an accompanying leaflet or an associated display box.

Further information can be obtained from the BIS (Formerly DTI).

I've got some second hand furniture that I want to use in a flat I rent out, how do I know if it is suitable?

Second hand furniture must comply with the safety requirements of the Furniture and Furnishing (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988. You should look for a permanent label stating that the furniture complies with the Regulations. The label will be headed ‘CARELESSNESS CAUSES FIRE’. It will also give a batch number and may say who the manufacturer or importer is and what materials were used when the furniture was made. If you cannot find a label on the furniture you should not use it in the flat.

Further information can be obtained from the BIS (Formerly DTI).

I've imported some American cushions and furniture to sell in my shop. The labels say that they comply with US Regulations. Does this mean that they are OK to sell in the UK?

No, all upholstered furniture sold in the UK must comply with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988, as amended. These Regulations specify tests for both the covering material and the fillings of both furniture and cushions. The tests are contained in various British Standards, mainly BS 5852: Part 1:1979 and BS 5852:Part 2:1982. You will need to advise your suppliers in America of the requirements of these Regulations and Standards.  You may also need to set up a sampling and testing regime in the UK for any furniture that you import. The Regulations also set out a number of labelling requirements for both furniture and cushions (i.e. a batch number only has to be given on a permanent label of upholstered furniture if applicable, etc). You may wish to consider importing the cushion covers unfilled and then fill them using cushions that have been made for the UK market and are labelled accordingly.

Further information can be obtained from the BIS (Formerly DTI).

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Weights and Measures

Can I sell my goods in pounds and ounces?

No, the law requires all goods, whether loose or pre-packed, to be sold by metric weights and measures, but the equivalent in the ‘old’ system can be shown as additional information.

Can public houses sell beer with a head of froth?

A reasonable head is permitted in certain circumstances. A head of froth should not be so large that the customer receives less than 95% of liquid when the head has settled

Do some goods have to be sold in fixed quantities?

Yes, many basic foodstuffs such as bread, flour, butter etc, as well as some non food items such as coal, are required to be pre-packed in certain prescribed quantities. This ensures that customers know what they are getting and can make easy comparisons between different traders' products and prices. Retailers and packers can find specific guidance on the Trading Standards Institute website  or can discuss enquiries with their local Trading Standards Service.  

Who do I contact if I want some equipment checked or need to make a complaint?

If you are a consumer wishing to complain about short measure you should contact Consumer Direct Wales on 03454 04 05 06. If you need advice on weights and measures or want to arrange equipment testing you should contact your local Trading Standards Service (click here to find your local Trading Standards Service).

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