Seizures of counterfeit alcohol and tobacco by trading standards authorities have rocketed according to exclusive research conducted by E&T.
Alcohol seizures, in particular, are likely to become the top focus of local authorities to the detriment of other categories such as consumer electronics.
Through a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to trading standards authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, E&T has learned that occasions where consumer electronics were seized fell to 61 from 84 in 2010 and 111 in 2009 – a total fall of 55 per cent in two years. Fake branded clothing and luxury goods suffered even more in the same period, with seizures down by almost two-thirds.
However, seizures of alcohol increased fivefold from 31 in 2009 to 158 in 2011, while tobacco seizures increased by three times over two years.
“In the last six months, we have noted a significant increase in high-profile seizures of counterfeit alcohol by trading standards authorities,” said a spokesperson for the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).
The increase in counterfeit alcohol seizures is against a backdrop of local authority budgets being cut, with up to 30 per cent of staff facing redundancy. The TSI previously warned against ‘salami slicing’ of trading standards budgets.
Director general of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group, Ruth Orchard, said the shift in focus of Trading Standards from consumer electronics, luxury goods and clothing is a “policy change” rather than the result of any decrease in counterfeiting activity in these categories.
“This focus has been imposed from above. The problem is that trading standards authorities have no powers of arrest. We support them as much as we can, but they require more resources and support,” said Orchard.
Typically, trading standards will work with other agencies – such as HM Revenue and Customs and local police, which do have powers of arrest.
“Since 2001, we have been targeting the trade in counterfeit alcohol,” explained Jonathan Hall, a senior spokesperson for HM Revenue and Customs. “We have been stepping up our arrests in relation to counterfeit alcohol in the past year to disrupt the trade,” he added.
William Higham, director of consumer electronics at IntellectUK, said: “I really welcome this investigation from the IET and I look forward to examining the results in detail. The truth is that counterfeit CE can be truly harmful.
“For many people technology isn’t just about entertainment it’s their link to the world. And they have a right to expect safe and functional equipment in return for their hard-earned money. It’s HMRC’s job to make sure this is the case.”
View E&T’s raw data.