The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 replaces the Merchandise Marks Acts 1887 to 1953 by fresh provisions prohibiting mis-descriptions of goods, services, accommodation and facilities provided in the course of trade.
The Act prohibits false or misleading indications as to the price of goods; confers power to require information or instructions relating to goods to be marked on or to accompany the goods or to be included in advertisements; prohibits the un-authorised use of devices or emblems signifying royal awards; and enables the Parliament of Northern Ireland to make laws relating to merchandise marks.
The Act was significantly updated by The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
The Act makes it an offence if a trader
- applies a false trade description to any goods; or
- supplies or offers to supply any goods to which a false trade description is applied; or
- makes certain kinds of false statement about the provision of any services, accommodation or facilities.
The Act applies to all goods offered online and care must be taken when advertising via a website and/or email direct marketing.
False trade description
A trade description is an indication as to any one of a number of matters listed in the Act.
- Quantity, size or gauge of goods (60x90cm);
- How they were made or processed ('hand-sewn');
- What they are made of ('solid brass');
- Their fitness for purpose, strength, performance, behaviour or accuracy ('unbreakable');
- Any other physical characteristics which they possess ('fitted with disc brakes');
- A statement that the goods have been tested or approved by any person ('this encyclopaedia has been approved by your local education authority');
- Where they were made ('made in England'). When they were made ('18th century mirror');
- Who made them ('Van Gogh painting');
- Any other information about their history ('reconditioned: Government surplus stock').
To be an offence the indication must be false to a material degree. It is not enough for it just to contain a quite insignificant inaccuracy. It must be applied to the goods in question, whether in writing or by means of an illustration, symbol or other marking on the goods themselves, on containers, labels, showcards, in advertisements, etc, or in an oral statement.
False indications by a trader of Royal patronage or approval of his goods or services are also covered by the Act. So are false indications that goods or services are of a kind supplied to any person (e.g. 'as supplied to the National Theatre').
False statements about services, accommodation or facilities
The Act covers statements about one or more of a number of listed matters, including the provision or services, accommodation or facilities; their nature; the time at which they are provided; how they are provided or who provides them; their examination, approval or evaluation by a person; where accommodation is provided or what amenities it has.
Again, the statement must be false to a material degree. Spoken as well as written statements, including statements in advertisements, are covered. Not every statement about services etc. which turns out to be wrong is covered. A trader commits an offence only if the statement is false when it is made, and the trader knows it to be false or makes it recklessly, not caring whether it is true or false.
If a trader offers to provide a service, but fails to do so, you may have a right to sue him for breach of contract, but the Act is not involved.
Generally speaking, statements about houses are outside the scope of the Act unless they relate to such matters as holiday accommodation. Nor is the Act directly concerned with the question of compensation which is normally a matter for the civil law. However as a result of the Criminal Justice Act 1972 a court which convicts a person of an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act may, if it sees fit to do so, also make a compensation order in favour of the victim of the offence.
Supervision and enforcement