Review of three government websites designed with the rights of the consumer in mind

January is the traditional season for returning Christmas presents which don’t fit, don’t work or just don’t have the same appeal as a cash refund. If the retailer in question won’t allow you to return the goods in question, fear not.

Trading Standards Central

The name suggests a one stop site for all matters to do with trading and standards and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Maintained by the Trading Standards Institute (, this site has a wealth of resources available to both consumers and traders (and other interested parties, too). First, there is an impressive array of advice leaflets and online information on a list of topics including shopping over the internet, unfair terms in consumer contracts and weights and measures issues. These are broken down, where appropriate, into information for Scotland, and information for England and Wales. It also provides information on how to register with the telephone and mail preference services to cut down on cold calls and junk mail, which I would heartily recommend doing.

Trading Standards Central provides a list of legislation required to be enforced by local authorities in Scotland, together with a note of other legislation relevant to trading standards and to the conduct of trading activities of both consumers and traders generally. A very useful pointer to solicitors seeking the source of trading standards rules.

There is a diverting quiz to test your knowledge of consumer law. This is updated weekly and is really hard (your reviewer scored 2 out of a possible 6)! Additionally, there is an alarmingly long list of product recall and safety notices telling the shopping public which products are liable to injure or disappoint them – just hope that none of your Christmas presents appear on the list.

Consumer Direct

Another government website, this is mainly aimed (as the name suggests) at consumers. There is some useful advice and some good factsheets which could be printed out for future reference.

Of most interest however, is the section on complaints. Alongside some good advice on how to make a complaint are a series of template complaint letters to write to the retailer/credit provider in question – supplied courtesy of Liverpool City Council. These give different styles with reference to the relevant legislation for different scenarios. The last letter is a threat to take the offending company to court within seven days, so it may come as a disappointment that the site offers no such templates for small claims actions.

Office of Fair Trading

This website provides a huge wealth of information on all of the OFT’s activities. My impression is that there is more information on this site than on the others, and although it seems to cover the issues in a more matter-of-fact way, it would be harsh to say that the site wasn’t user friendly. For the lawyer looking for something of use on these pages, the OFT certainly seems to have a lot of information on competition law.

In particular, I would commend the UK competition court cases database for your attention. The database aims to list comprehensively UK judgments in cases involving competition law, and to act as a starting point for further legal research. The listings contain only brief information about the facts of the case and the judgment given, but also give contact details for obtaining further information.

The database is created by voluntary submissions by lawyers involved in competition law court cases in the UK, and cases can be added on the site itself. This is all very “Web 2.0” – think of it as a kind of Wikipedia or MySpace for competition lawyers. There does seem to be a dearth of more recent cases and cases from Scotland, so if you’ve been involved in a competition law case recently – go on, post it here and help the OFT (and your fellow practitioners).

Finally, if you’re having a dull afternoon in the office (or you want to do some valuable consumer-based research) I’d really recommend the “scams” page in the consumer section of the site. You can read about all the delicious little scams that people get up to and how not to fall for them, take part in a number of engaging quizzes or games, or visit the site which stops just short of telling you not to be so stupid, in offering the sage advice to prize scam recipients: “You have not won anything at all. You have not won a million pounds in the Dutch lottery. You have not won a holiday home and you have not won a free iPod.”

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