Poundland HFSS

Source: The Grocer

Poundland’s checkouts displayed HFSS snacks weeks after new rules came into force

The government expects to provide less than £35,000 a year across all local authorities in England to help them enforce its HFSS promotions clampdown, according to figures uncovered by The Grocer.

The Department for health & Social Care also admitted this week that it had no idea how many enforcement actions had been taken by Trading Standards officers since the new rules came into play in October.

Under the regime, stores that fail to comply with the rules on HFSS promotions face being served with improvement notices by local authorities, which can escalate to fines from £2,500 upwards, and even criminal prosecutions.

However, Trading Standards bosses have previously warned their ability to enforce the rules would be severely limited by a lack of manpower, with cuts to local authority budgets over many years having seen resources for enforcement slashed in half in the previous decade.

When the rules came in, Trading Standards organisation CTSI told The Grocer it would “take the biscuit” to expect “rigorous and ongoing” enforcement of new HFSS restrictions, given “limited funding” available.

Not all retailers were immediate to comply with the new rules, including Poundland, which took a number of weeks to bring stores fully in line.

The lack of funding for inspectors has now been brought into sharp focus, with a new Grocer inquiry showing the levels of funding available for all authorities is roughly the same as the income of a family entitled to Universal Credit.

A DHSC spokeswoman said it had estimated the total annual enforcement costs for the location restrictions to be £33,000 – intended to cover all local authorities – as well as £39,000 as a one-off familiarisation cost.

She said it was dependent on the structure of the individual local authority whether they would be enforced by Trading Standards or Environmental Health officers.

She also claimed the government was committed to ensuring enforcement of regulatory policies was proportionate and fair, adding that local authorities and the judicial system would be supported by DHSC with the additional costs that would be incurred as a result of enforcing the policy.

Read more: How will the HFSS rules be enforced?

The government’s HFSS proposals have already been the subject of huge delay and controversy.

A ban on promotion of HFSS products in prominent store locations, such as front of store and aisle ends, eventually came in last year, whilst further proposals for a ban on multibuy HFSS deals, including bogofs, were shelved until October this year, amid fears from supermarket bosses that the move would drive up inflation.

With the rules on multibuys looming, the level of funding has sparked fears from campaign groups that retailers will be tempted to flout the regulations, especially with the cost of living crisis putting huge extra pressure on sales.

Sustain children’s food co-ordinator Barbara Crowther said: “It’s now seven months since the HFSS regulations came into force, but without properly resourced enforcement there is a serious risk some businesses will start to slip back into old junk food promotional habits.”

“Local trading standards and environmental health teams are being expected to deliver, but where are the resources, training and workforce support for them to do their jobs?

“With rising concerns about diet-related illnesses such as diabetes hitting the headlines again this week, it is absolutely critical that preventative health measures like these promotional [measures] work properly in the face of the increasing costs of dietary ill health on society and the NHS. More transparency and reassurance that the HFSS regulations will be properly enforced is urgently needed.”