The Trade Descriptions Act originally came into effect on November 30th 1968. Since its introduction the legislation has been altered several times; most notably in 1972, 1987, 1998 and 2010. The Act was introduced to replace the old Merchandise Marks laws which were essentially created to protect consumers when purchasing products. In general the Trade Descriptions Act is involved with the description of goods and it is also concerned with the prices and services offered with particular goods. The legislation is a prominent part of the Department of Trade and Industry. This department is responsible for the enforcement and monitoring of the Act.
The Trade Description Act has made it an offence to provide a false description about any good. It is also an offence to supply or offer to supply any good which has had a false description applied to them. Making false statements about services, accommodation or facilities is also an offence under the Act.
The Act considers a description to be anything which relates to the quantity, size or gauge of goods. It also includes how good have been made or processed and the materials used to produce goods. Also mentioned within the Act is the physical attributes of a product including strength, performance, behaviours or accuracy. Personal characteristics must also be described truly and a statement that products have been tested is also covered by the Trade Descriptions Act. Also covered is where products were produced, when they were produced, who produced them and any other information which relates directly to the history of a product.
In order for the Act to be breached there must be a clear untruth within a description, a minor insignificant inaccuracy is not regarded as a breach of the Act; prosecutions for slight inaccuracy are therefore very rare.
The false description provided can be relating to a written description, an illustration or symbol. Other descriptions which must comply with the Act include the good themselves, containers, labels, show cards, oral conversations and advertisements. In cases where advertisements are produced for traders by an external company these must also meet the requirements of the Act.
Convictions and prosecutions regarding breaches of the Act are usually carried out by local Trading Standards bodies. These organisations have a legal obligation to enforce and monitor the activities relating to the Trade Descriptions Act. The Act provides these bodies with the legal right to enter, inspect and seize items which are in breach of it.
Consumers who believe the act is being broken show inform their local Trading Standards authority. This body is not responsible for handling compensation claims which consumers wish to pursue in regards to the Act being breached. Local Trading Standard authorities will provide guidance and information to traders on the the Trade Description Act.