26th July 2023

No safe haven for criminals

Trading Standards teams are being encouraged to spread the word about the Tick Box self storage scheme.

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
The message is to not accept cash, perform diligent know your customer checks, and to keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour

Self storage businesses must act responsibly and exercise due diligence to avoid falling foul of the law, according to an ongoing Trading Standards initiative.

The Tick Box project was set up in partnership between the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), Trading Standards, the Self Storage Association UK (SSAUK) and other enforcement bodies. It is jointly funded by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and National Trading Standards (NTS), and is administered by London Trading Standards (LTS) in England and Wales and by the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS). The project is currently being extended into Northern Ireland.

The project is designed to encourage the adoption of a voluntary code of practice to reduce the appeal of self storage facilities to criminals.

The use of such facilities to store illegal and counterfeit goods is not a new problem – but it is one that has become more prevalent, with millions of pounds worth of such goods being seized from self storage premises in the past two years alone.

Counterfeit cigarettes and tobacco feature heavily in the list of items seized, with a raid in Bolton in June netting one of the biggest hauls ever made in the UK (specialist tobacco detection dogs are often used in such raids, to great effect). In March, Rochdale Trading Standards disrupted a major counterfeiting network responsible for proliferating an estimated £65m of illicit goods per year.

Counterfeit designer clothing and accessories are also regularly among the products seized from self storage facilities by Trading Standards, as well as more unusual items including designer carpets, fake holy water and erectile disfunction pills.

Gavin Terry, who coordinates the Tick Box initiative in England and Wales in addition to being CTSI Lead Officer for Intellectual Property, explains: “Over the last 18 months we’ve seen a lot of activity, both from the police and Trading Standards, seizing counterfeit goods from self storage facilities.

“The project is about reaching out to the self storage industry – particularly the diligent end of the industry – to build links with them and make them aware of the role and powers of Trading Standards. It also makes them aware of the risks of people storing counterfeit and illicit goods in their facilities.”

Self storage companies that enable their premises to be used by criminals may end up paying a heavy cost, both legally and in terms of their business reputations, Terry points out.

“Having counterfeit goods in your possession in the course of operating a business is a criminal offence. Self storage businesses could be liable to prosecution in the same way as the person storing the goods – we wouldn’t necessarily be going after diligent businesses with a view to prosecution, but we welcome self storage businesses to work with Trading Standards and report any suspicion of counterfeit goods being stored on the premises so Trading Standards can come in and take possession of any illegal goods.

“Trading Standards have statutory power of entry to any business premises. We have the power to inspect products on the premises, and to request that they open the storage units to us. And if they don’t, we have the power to cut the lock off. But Trading Standards would prefer to work with the self storage business to stop criminals, ” Terry adds.

“Many counterfeiters use false names and addresses to register with self storage businesses; at the less diligent end of the market, businesses may take cash payments for rental. The message is to not accept cash, perform diligent know your customer checks, and to keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour.”

Spread the word
The Tick Box project launched in England and Wales in 2020, followed by Scotland in 2022 and Northern Ireland in 2023. Among its key aims are to bolster reporting and intelligence with the ultimate goal of disrupting counterfeiters’ supply chains and making it hostile for them to operate in the UK.

Des Staggemeier, Enforcement Outreach & Stakeholder Engagement at the IPO, says: “All self storage businesses that are committed to fair trading and consumer protection are invited to join the Tick Box scheme. It is implemented easily with no administrative barriers, costs or membership fees.

“Businesses do not have to be a member of SSAUK to become part of the scheme and the process to join is very straightforward; eligibility will be confirmed by a simple audit of the business, undertaken by a local Trading Standards Officer. If the business does not meet the minimum standards set by the scheme’s Code of Practice, it has an opportunity to take remedial measures and then be reassessed.”

The Tick Box Code of Practice requires businesses to:

  • Prohibit the storage of counterfeit and illicit goods
  • Carry out KYC (‘know your customer’) identification checks
  • Provide reasonable assistance to Trading Standards
  • Ensure all staff understand the code of practice and their responsibilities
  • Report the storage of counterfeit or other illicit goods to Trading Standards

The scheme now has more than 120 members, equating to more than 820 physical premises. Trading Standards teams have a big part to play in boosting take-up of the initiative, and are encouraged to visit the website and get in touch via enforcement@ipo.gov.uk to find out how they can get involved.

Tick Box has also created two staff training videos to help self storage businesses stay within the law; they can be viewed here and here.

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