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OFT denies variations in trading standards legal interpretations

A Pendragon director has challenged the Office of Fair Trading over variations in the way trading standards departments around the UK interpret legislation affecting dealers.

Hilary Sykes, corporate services director, said in a question and answer session at the Motor Law conference: “We find departments in different parts of the country have a diverging approach to legislation.

“The OFT seems to have a European mindset, but what guidance does it give to individual trading standards offices?”

Colin Brown, policy director at the Office of Fair Trading, said: “This is something we look at, but I don’t think there is evidence of great variations.”

In his presentation, Brown said the ‘consumer direct’ feature on the OFT website last year attracted 1.5m phone complaints – more related to home repairs than to the motor industry.

There were 59,562 complaints about used cars and 23,264 relating to car repairs and servicing. Other complaints related to used cars bought from franchised and independent dealers (12,641 and 37,594 respectively).

Complaints about repairs and servicing at independent garages totalled 14,498.

Brown thought there had been a “fundamental shift” for the better in the repair and servicing sector. “I don’t see why that cannot now happen in the used car market – that would be a big prize,” he added.

Jemima Murray, an official at the Department of Trade and Industry, said there would be public consultation in the autumn about legislation to replace the Trade Descriptions Act.

It is due to come into force in spring 2008 – a year late – and should simplify the law. “The existing laws overlap because they were drawn up piecemeal, which creates problems” she said.

“At times trading standards departments, when bringing actions, have to try to fit into the legislation.

“The huge majority of dealers will have no reason to worry about the new legislation – we want to impact on rogue traders, not fair traders.”

Murray said the DTI and the EC were looking at ways of harmonizing trading rules across Europe.

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