Agenda item

Community Protection Service - Enforcement and Intervention Activity


The Committee received a report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change that provided background information on enforcement and intervention activity by the Council’s Community Protection Service (for copy see file of minutes).


I Harrison, Business Compliance Strategic Manager gave a detailed presentation that gave an overview on the activities carried out by the Council’s Consumer Protection service.  The service dealt with enforcement and intervention activities in relation to consumer protection, consumer safety special investigations, health protection, environmental protection and licensing to protect the vulnerable. This involved investigation into underage sales, illicit tobacco and vapes, animal welfare, animal licensing, food safety, Natasha’s Law around food being correctly allergen marked, health and safety at work, environmental protection, air quality, private water supplies, the Licensing Act 2003 and taxis.


Councillor D McKenna asked if the process in dealing with rogue traders could be explained as he had submitted a report that had included evidence on behalf of a resident to be then told it was a civil matter.


The Business Compliance Strategic Manager stated that he was not familiar with the case so could not comment.  He advised that there were two elements to consumer protection – i) the civil law element that addressed contracts between the consumer and the business or trader to ensure they did a satisfactory job that was acceptable of the price; and ii) the criminal law element that investigated where you had to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed.  Officers would look at all the evidence and facts provided and make an assessment as to whether someone should be taken to court and prosecuted.  A prosecution would only be made in the most serious of cases.


Councillor D McKenna felt that he had presented all the evidence that was necessary and the response back to the resident was disheartening.


The Business Compliance Strategic Manager agreed to look into the case on behalf of Councillor D McKenna and report back to him.


Councillor J Miller asked if people should have a licence to breed dogs.  He felt that the reported number of dog breeders of 45 in Durham was very low and thought that there more unlicensed breeders.  He questioned what was being done to find out who they were and if fines issued by the courts came to the local authority.


The Business Compliance Strategic Manager stated that the courts kept all the money obtained through fines.  He confirmed that it was extremely difficult to try to find out the identities of unlicensed dog breeders.  He noted that dog breeding was a well organised operation where there was generally more than one person involved.  He added that breeding kennels were located in different areas, sellers would use different addresses when people collected puppies and they would use burner phones with different phone numbers being advertised each time.  Work was ongoing to try to spot regular sellers but it was time consuming and was reliant on intelligence.  He stated if puppies became ill after being bought buyers tended not to complain or try to get their money back as by that time they had already become part of the family and endured heavy vet bills.


Councillor D Nicholls reiterated that dog breeding was a serious issue that generated a lot of money and would be hard to tackle until legislation came into place.


The Business Compliance Strategic Manager stated that there were even issues if for what ever reason a family could no longer keep the dog, they were being bought to be bred unbeknown to the family. This had been made aware when information on microchips within the dog did not contain the correct owner’s details. If the team had more staff this area of work could be focused on.


Councillor D Nicholls was shocked that the money from fines issued to food premises was lost to the courts. It was unbelievable that people could be responsible for unhygienic places where people ate.   He queried if there was any form of register to track and manage the licensing element of businesses when they closed down then reopened under a different name.


The Business Compliance Strategic Manager advised that food businesses were registered with the local authority.  It had been found that if a person on the licence had been fined and the licence revoked then other people were identified unconnected to the original business to apply for a new licence to reopen. Unfortunately if the new person had no record there would be no reason why the local authority would not register that person.  However the premises would get more inspections.


Councillor D Nicholls asked in terms of traders could they be fined if they appeared to be overcharging for a service.


The Business Compliance Strategic Manager informed the committee that the value of a service was subject to what someone was willing to pay for it.  It was impossible to prove intent to commit fraud.  There was no law to say how much a product was worth as this would be stated in the contract.  He did think that education was the key.  People should ask for at least three quotes from different traders and ask for references from people who have had work done by them before deciding. He felt that people should not be afraid to ask questions.  He noted that it was difficult to catch rogue traders and people needed to look out for each other especially for vulnerable people.


Councillor V Andrews asked about air quality and whether there was guidance on log burners.  She also asked about the quality of water and whether rivers were covered under Consumer Protection.


The Business Compliance Strategic Manager stated that the Environment Agency covered water in rivers.  There were regulations for log burners as people needed to have the appropriate equipment and the government had introduced new rules on what wood could be burnt to ensure it contained less water that improved their efficiency.  He noted that any industrial log burners would be covered under their environment permit.  Within domestic law the local authority had no power to enter a home to ensure residents had the correct appliance so it was difficult to prove what went on behind closed doors


Mr D Balls queried in terms of event licences if the university was still one of the biggest offenders.


The Business Compliance Strategic Manager confirmed that the university still held lots of events.  In 2022 the local authority issued temporary notices that legally gave the right to carry out an event but this had now changed and the local authority were just informed about events.  It would be in consultation with Environmental Health or the police to give grounds to object to an event taking place.  It would then come to committee for discussion but the organisation would have the right to appeal.


Councillor E Mavin queried health and safety in a premises and gave the example of a young man who had died by falling down the stairs at an Italian restaurant.


The Business Compliance Strategic Manager stated that he was aware of the case but it was inappropriate for him to comment.  He advised that in general a premises should be safe as standard and gave an example that if there were stairs in a premises then an appropriate handrail should be installed. All the facts and evidence on health and safety elements would be taken into consideration when making a determination if someone was injured in that premises.


Councillor P Heaviside thanked the Business Compliance Strategic Managerfor the very informative presentation.  




That the report and presentation be noted.


Supporting documents: