UK's cost of living crisis 'raising threat of counterfeits'

The cost-of-living crisis in the UK has led to a surge in the volume of counterfeit goods being seized, with the situation expected to get worse, according to new data from Trading Standards.

Over 4 million counterfeit products breaching the intellectual property of legitimate businesses – with an estimated market value of £111m ($127m) – were seized in the 2021-2022 financial year, more than treble the level seen in 2020-2021 when COVID-19 reduced this type of activity.

However, it was still more than 50 per cent higher than in 2019-2020, and according to the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers (ACTSO) latest Impacts and Outcomes Report "will increase due to the financial pressures on households and businesses" as a result of inflationary pressures.

"Supplying counterfeit goods damages legitimate businesses who manufacture, distribute and buy licences to sell legitimate products," says the report, which is available here (PDF).

"Often counterfeiting is run by international organised criminal gangs who use the profits from sales to fund other criminal activity."

The amount of tobacco seized also increased significantly, which the reports says was primarily due to the investments the tax authorities in the UK have made into National Trading Standards, who commission local authorities to carry out activities to disrupt the local supply of illicit tobacco.

Enforcement activity last year focussed on using detection dogs and resulted in large-scale seizures, totalling 14.9m illegal cigarettes worth around £6.1m, 4.8 tonnes of hand rolling tobacco worth £1.7m, and 338kg of shisha tobacco worth over £53,000.

Over 7000 businesses were also identified as supplying food that was misdescribed, did not correctly declare allergens, contained toxic or illegal components or was involved in food fraud, according to the ACTSO.

This was much higher than 2020-2021 when the Food Standards Agency advised local authorities to suspend all routine food inspections due to COVID, it said.

"The current economic situation is inevitably causing consumers and businesses to tighten their belts, but in consequence unscrupulous and rogue traders are exploiting this increased vulnerability," commented John Herriman, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).

"The data clearly shows not only the significant impact Trading Standards is making to address consumer detriment but also that the risks to consumers from scams, counterfeit and illicit goods, and false and misleading prices are on the rise," he went on.

"It is imperative to the national economy that that we build and maintain consumer confidence, and this is very much dependent upon us having confidence in the integrity of businesses.

"By tackling unscrupulous practices whether that is preventing food fraud or removing counterfeit goods, Trading Standards is an absolutely vital component in underpinning confidence in businesses and from consumers, and ultimately helping the UK steer the choppy waters ahead."

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