How to become a Trading Standards Officer. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does a Trading Standards Officer do?
As a trading standards officer (TSO), it would be your job to protect consumers by promoting a safe and fair trading environment. You would work for local councils, advising on consumer law, investigating complaints and prosecuting traders who break the law.
You could cover a range of issues, including:
- animal welfare
- counterfeit goods
- product labelling
- weights and measures
- under-age sales.
In some jobs you could be involved in all aspects of trading standards work, or you might specialise in one area. Your duties could include:
- visiting local traders and businesses for routine checks or to investigate complaints
- taking samples of goods for testing
- checking that weighing scales and measures are accurate
- making sure that labelling is correct and advertising is not misleading
- advising consumers and businesses about the law
- investigating suspected offences, which could include undercover or surveillance work
- preparing evidence and going to court in prosecution cases
- giving talks, writing reports and keeping records.
You would be supported in your job by enforcement or fair trading officers (who do similar work but do not deal with weights and measures), and consumer advisers, who are often the public’s first point of contact in a trading standards department.
In most jobs you would work around 37 hours a week, with some unsocial hours if you needed to visit pubs and clubs in the evening or market traders at the weekend.
You would have an office base, but would spend a lot of your time travelling around the local area, visiting traders and attending court.
How much does a Trading Standards Officer do?
Salary and pay information:
- Typical starting salaries for enforcement officers and trainee TSOs are between £18,000 and £24,000 a year.
- When qualified, this can rise to between £29,000 and £39,000.
- Senior TSOs and managers can earn up to £54,000 a year.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
The most common way to start in this career is to study for a consumer protection degree approved by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).
To get onto a consumer protection degree, you will usually need at least five GCSEs (A-C) including English, maths and science, plus two A levels. Other qualifications and relevant work experience may be accepted, so check entry requirements with universities.
If you already have a degree in a relevant subject such as law, retail management or food science, you could instead take Manchester Metropolitan University’s Postgraduate Diploma/MSc in Trading Standards (up to one year full-time or two-years part-time).
Some local authorities may sponsor you for the consumer protection degree. This means that you will get work experience whilst you study, and it may also lead to a job after you graduate.
When you have graduated from the consumer protection course, you must then get a job as a trainee trading standards officer and study for the TSI’s Diploma in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards (DCATS) whilst you are working.
See the Trading Standards Institute website for more information and a list of approved course providers.
- Trading Standards Institute – Getting Started
Getting in without a degree
As an alternative to starting with a consumer protection degree, it can be possible to apply for work as a consumer adviser or trainee enforcement officer with a local authority. You could then study towards professional qualifications on the job as you work your way up to TSO.
At this level you would usually start by taking the TSI’s Certificate of Competence and the Foundation Certificate in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards (FCATS) on the job. You could then move on to the DCATS when you have more experience.
Local authority trading standards departments recruit people from a wide variety of backgrounds. For either route, you will find it useful to have previous experience of legal, retail or advice work.
Training and Development
Whilst you are working as a trainee TSO, you will learn on the job and also study for professional qualifications in the Trading Standards Qualifications Framework (TSQF). These include:
- Foundation Certificate in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards (FCATS) – an entry-level qualification in consumer law (you don’t need to take this qualification if you already have a consumer protection degree)
- Module Certificates in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards – single-subject exams in nine areas of trading standards work
- Diploma in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards (DCATS) – the legal requirement to be a fully-qualified TSO.
To achieve DCATS you must pass at least three of the module certificates, and hand in a portfolio of workplace evidence. DCATS usually takes around 18 months, and you can study for the exams by distance learning or with a local approved training provider. See the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) website for more information.
- Trading Standards Institute – Trading Standards Qualifications Framework
You should keep on updating your knowledge and skills throughout your career. The TSI offers the Higher Diploma in Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards (HDCATS) for experienced trading standards officers, plus a range of short courses.
Skills and Knowledge
- good written and spoken communication skills
- good observation and attention to detail
- the ability to understand technical and complex information
- good judgement
- the ability to work alone or as part of a team
- patience, determination and resilience
- tact, diplomacy and assertiveness
- computer and mathematical skills
- a driving licence, as travelling is essential to the job.
Most full-time jobs are with local authorities (or, in Northern Ireland, the Trading Standards Service). There are also opportunities for short-term contract work with specialist agencies.
Jobs may be advertised in the local and national press, council websites, and on the LGjobs and Trading Standards Institute websites.
Most trading standards departments offer a clear promotion structure to senior TSO, team leader/section head, divisional officer and chief or principal trading standards officer. Alternatively, with experience you could move into private consultancy work.