Logo
HomeContactsHelp
Home > WELMEC > Country info > United Kingdom

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom (UK) is a constitutional monarchy with a two-chambered Parliament. The UK is composed of four countries, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which jointly have a population of over 60 million. The Monarch is Head of State although executive and legislative power rests with Parliament headed by a Prime Minister and Government Cabinet of Ministers. The upper chamber (the House of Lords) is composed of hereditary representatives and members appointed by the Government whilst the lower chamber (the House of Commons) consists solely of directly elected representatives. 

In 1999 the right of all hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords was ended. The current membership of approximately 730 includes only 92 hereditary peers. The remainder are life peers that are individually appointed to the peerage by government but whose title lapses on the death of that individual. Representatives of the House of Commons are known as Members of Parliament (MPs) of which there are currently about 650. MPs are elected on a constituency wide basis normally at a general election which must be held once every five years. 

Local government in England is a mixture of two tier (County and Districts) (and for some e.g. London, Assembly and Borough Councils) and single tier (mainly other Metropolitan areas). New single tier unitary authorities have replaced two-tier structures in the whole of Wales and Scotland and in many urban parts of England. Local government is subject to continuing reorganisation. As part of the process of devolving certain executive powers from Parliament to the Regions of the United Kingdom, the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament have been set up along with the Northern Ireland Assembly. These elected bodies have defined legislative and administrative powers within their respective Regions. Northern Ireland has a single tier structure of 26 district authorities although weights and measures and other consumer protection matters are administered through the Assembly. The number of local weights and measures, or consumer protection authorities in England, Wales and Scotland is approximately 200.

Organisational Structure and Background

The origins of Inspectors of Weights and Measures in the UK can be traced to William the Conqueror when he ordained that “weights and measures shall be true and stamped in all parts of the country”. In 1340 Edward III required the appointment of “good and suitable persons” to inspect measures and weights. In 1824 a new law required that “stampers” be appointed and for all trade weights and measures to be compulsorily stamped. Since that time local authorities have provided and maintained standards and employed qualified Inspectors according to successive Weights and Measures Acts, including the current Act of 1985.

The Weights and Measures Act 1985 is the statutory basis for the legal metrology system in England, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland in respect of units and standards of measurement. In Northern Ireland for the rest the equivalent is the Weights and Measures (Northern Ireland) Order 1981. 

Government control of weights and measures (and hallmarking) is delivered by the National Measurement and Regulation Office (NMRO), an Executive Agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). NMRO represents the United Kingdom at European and international level.  Part of NMRO carries out Government functions such as the designation of UK notified bodies and market surveillance under MID and NAWI directive, and the designation of private sector “Approved Verifiers”.  Another part, organisationally separate is the NMRO Certification Services Directorate who provide internationally recognised accredited testing, measurement and calibration facilities and are designated for most modules under NAWI and the MID. (NMRO, SGS UK and BSI are designated as a notified bodies for gas and electricity meters.)

The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is responsible for the accreditation of third-party certification bodies and laboratory accreditation. It is the sole national accreditation body recognised by government to assess, against internationally agreed standards, organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services. 

UKAS is a non-profit-distributing company, limited by guarantee, and operates under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government through the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.  Responsibility for consumer protection enforcement in England, Scotland and Wales rests with the local trading standards authorities. In Northern Ireland this is carried out by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Each local authority responsible for consumer protection is autonomous, and the necessary coordination is provided by the Local Government Metrology Experts Group. 

Each of the local authorities responsible for matters relating to consumer protection including fair trading, has a Trading Standards or Consumer Protection Department (referred to as Trading Standards Departments). These were originally known as Weights and Measures Departments prior to the expansion of their role into broader consumer protection enforcement areas. These Departments provide a comprehensive enforcement and advice service and administer a whole range of laws governing metrology (both in respect of measuring instruments and the sale of goods by quantity including “e” marking of packages) as well as fair trading, foodstuffs, product safety and consumer protection. Each Department employs professionally qualified officers, known as Trading Standards Officers, and additional enforcement staff to apply the law to the wide range of products and services controlled. 

Considerable emphasis is given to a procedure known as the ‘Primary Authority’ and ‘Home Authority’ Principles whereby each Trading Standards Department acts as the main contact point for enquiries concerning products and services originating from trade and industry with its headquarters usually in their particular areas and advises local companies on consumer protection legislation. The importance of the these Principles are widely recognised by businesses, local authorities and central government. It provides a way for local authorities to work effectively in partnership with businesses to deliver robust and consistent enforcement from the local authority in whose area a specific incident has taken place. Trading Standards Departments also work to the concept of Quality Assurance and efforts are made to promote Quality Assurance techniques to businesses.

Equipment Subject to National Controls

  • Simple length measures
  • Area measuring instruments (inspection only)
  • Non-liquid volume measures
  • Liquid volume measures
  • Dipsticks
  • Medium accuracy weights
  • Liquid volume metering instruments 
  • Petroleum
  • Liquefied petroleum gas (inspection only)
  • Bulk milk (inspection only)
  • Lubricating oil
  • Heating oil
  • Cold-water meters (domestic supplies only)
  • Gas volume meters (No routine inspection. Re-verification where meter readings subject to dispute)
  • Electricity meters (sampling inspections each 5 years. Re-verification every 10 or 20 years depending on meter type)
  • Non-automatic weighing instruments 

    • Self-indicating
    • Non self-indicating

  • Automatic weighing instruments 

    • Discontinuous totalising
    • Continuous totalising instruments (beltweighers)
    • Gravimetric filling 
    • Rail weighbridges
    • Catch weighers 
    • Checkweighers (inspection only)
    • Weight graders (inspection only)
    • Weigh/price labeller and weigh labeller

  • Road traffic instruments 
  • Taximeters (Directive 77/95/EEC & 2004/22/EC) (Controls vary geographically)
  • Exhaust Gas Analysers (Directive 2004/22/EC)
  • Depth gauges for liquids for tax purposes (inspection only)
  • Measuring instruments for grading cereals (inspection only) (Directive 71/347/EEC)
  • Warm-water meters (inspection only Directive 79/830/EEC otherwise no controls. Random inspection if in use for trade)

    In the UK the control regime generally applies to instruments in use for trade. A notable exception to this is Directive 2009/23/EC on non-automatic weighing instruments, which applies to a much wider area. The above are all enforced by Trading Standards Departments with the exception of taximeters and exhaust gas analysers (including MID implementing regulations) which are the responsibility of the Department for Transport. 

    Type Approval

    Type approval is a principal function of NMRO under the 1985 Act and as a Notified Body under the NAWI Directive and MID. NMRO performs the examination and testing work in appraising any instrument (other than gas volume or electrical energy meters) submitted for national or EC type approval, and publishes the type approval certificate. In certain cases, examination and testing may form part of an “in process” type approval evaluation. In addition, where facilities are not available on the NMRO site, testing of a type may be contracted to a specialist laboratory. NMRO also offers consultancy and testing services for a wide range of equipment. The Laboratory employs engineers and test engineers for type approval purposes. 

    All instruments subject to legal metrology control require type approval prior to initial verification, apart from simple weights and measures and simple weighing instruments, but they must comply with construction requirements provided by regulations. Fees charged by NMRO are based on a full economic cost recovery principle. Fees for work under European Directives are set out by statutory legislation. Ad-hoc procedures apply to some other types of measuring instruments. For example, taximeters are subject to control in London by the licensing authority for taxis, the Public Carriage Office part of Transport for London. Elsewhere in the country, licensing authorities may apply no such procedure. NMRO issues a majority of its certificates for non-automatic weighing instruments, followed by automatic weighing instruments, fuel dispensers, cold-water meters, and intoxicating liquor measuring instruments.

    Initial Verification

    Initial verification was formerly the sole responsibility of the local weights and measures authorities in England, Scotland and Wales and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland. Following amendment to the Weights and Measures Act 1985, a self verification system has been introduced for manufacturers, installers and repairers. For instruments not subject to NAWI or MID the task is performed by the Trading Standards Officers or Approved Verifiers using an official mark, which incorporates a unique mark number identifying the individual officer verifying the instrument. Verification will be performed on site, at the manufacturers/importers UK premises, or at the local authority’s premises. It is usually based on 100% testing, but batch testing is permitted in certain circumstances. In situ verification was legally required where instruments are designed to be used in a permanent location but this requirement has recently changed to permit factory stamping of fuel dispensers. 

    The initial verification fees charged by local authorities are designed to secure full costs recovery including, where appropriate, travelling time and ancillary expenses. Discounts may be provided where large quantities of instruments are verified in bulk, and where the submitter provides equipment and facilities. 

    Self-verification is also possible under the NAWI Directive and MID. Approval is granted by a notified body to a manufacturer with an appropriate quality system in place. The system is based upon the application of Quality Assurance techniques (ISO 9000) and is subject to stringent safeguards. Manufacturers, installers and repairers seeking to become Approved Verifiers under the 1985 Act must apply directly to NMRO. An approval route is available by means of a direct Quality Assurance Audit from NMRO, or as part of an accredited ISO 9000 Quality System, followed by formal approval by the Secretary of State. 

    Trading Standards Officers have received government funded training, and the self-verification schemes now in place require them to play a significant role in assessing and auditing companies seeking self-verification authorisation as part of the third-party certification body assessment team. 

    Electricity meters may be self-verified by authorised manufacturers (since 1983). The manufacturers are to be third-party certified to ISO 9000 and meet other regulatory requirements. Initial verifications may also be performed by a meter examiner verification scheme 

    Gas volume meters are subject to initial verification by a sector specific body. In some instances the gas meter testing offices are sited on meter manufacturer’s premises, but they remain independent of the manufacturer.

    Inspection and Reverification

    Risk based inspection is performed by using statutory powers given to Trading Standards Officers. There are no statutory periods of inspection provided in current legislation. 

    Inspection tolerances are normally based on mpe x 2. 

    Statutory re-verification is only required after repair or modification. Generally, it is an offence to use such equipment until it has been re-verified. Re-verification of all instruments covered by the Weights and Measures Act 1985 and NAWI and MID instruments (excluding gas and active electrical energy meters, taximeters and exhaust gas analysers) may be carried out by an approved verifier. 

    The fees are as for initial verification.

    Legal Metrology Practitioners and Scope

    The NMRO employs engineers and test engineers for type approvals work. These will generally have a degree in engineering or applied physics or technical higher national certificates or diplomas with two years professional experience. Additional on-site training is provided. 

    Local trading standards authorities employ some 1500 Trading Standards Officers, supported by at least that number of other enforcement officers, to perform a range of fair trading and consumer protection functions. A full time equivalent figure of 300 Trading Standards Officers will be engaged on legal metrology inspection and verification tasks. In Northern Ireland some 25 Trading Standards Officers are employed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment with about twenty-five percent of that resource being employed on legal metrology functions. 

    Trading Standards Officers will generally be degree qualified on entry. A formal training course is provided with examinations being taken. The Weights and Measures Act 1985 requires inspectors to hold this statutory qualification. 

    Quality assurance techniques are applied to metrological control in the field of self verification, and so all Trading Standards Officers therefore receive training in quality assurance. Many have become registered under the UK scheme as QA assessors. Others have received less intensive QA familiarisation training for general application. Advanced QA training is now automatically provided as part of the formal qualification. 

    Many Trading Standards Officers are involved in the provision of quality assurance (ISO 9000) advice to their employing authorities in relation to the purchase and provision of goods and services, and to local industry. 

    Trading Standards Departments provide a comprehensive consumer protection/fair trading enforcement service. As well as applying legal metrology controls, therefore, they enforce laws controlling the following:

    • food composition and labelling;
    • trade descriptions applied to goods and services;
    • consumer product safety;
    • consumer credit;
    • animal health;
    • goods vehicle weights; and
    • licensing e.g. petroleum filling stations, explosives stores.

    When an officer inspects a trader’s premises, he will often perform a comprehensive inspection examining and testing not only weighing and measuring equipment, but also applying the above laws to the trader’s goods and service. 

    Most departments also provide a comprehensive advice service to consumers, and businesses, including ‘home authority’ advice to local industry. Local consumer protection departments deal with some 1 million complaints and enquiries each year.

    Sanctions

    There is no provision for the imposition of administrative fines. Infringements of legislation are dealt with either by prosecution in a Court of Law or by a written or verbal warning. 

    Prosecutions are normally brought by the local authority (except in Scotland and Northern Ireland) before a local Magistrates Court for adjudication. The inspector or a lawyer will present the case to the Magistrates who determine guilt and penalty. Offences under the Weights and Measures Act are of a “strict liability” nature, i.e. the local authority does not have to prove that the offender “knowingly” committed the offence. 

    Instruments found to be infringing legal requirements may be rejected and, in certain cases, seized and forfeited. 

    The Courts may impose a fine for offences involving the use of instruments outside tolerance, fraudulent use, short measure and pre-packages under T2. Considerable emphasis is placed by Trading Standards Departments on preventative enforcement and assisting traders to comply with the law. Prosecutions usually result because either the circumstances of the case were serious and indicated fraud or negligence, or the trader repeatedly offended and ignored warnings.

    Directive 1990/384/EEC

    Directive 2009/34/EC (codified) is implemented through The Non-automatic Weighing Instruments Regulations 2000 (as amended). 

    The provisions of the NAWI Directive are mandatory and have a much wider scope than just in use for trade. 

    No specific requirements have been implemented for gravity purposes. Manufacturers may choose to indicate in accompanying documentation what gravity value/zone the instrument has been set up for. 

    Generally instruments of Class III accuracy or better are required to be used for trade transactions. However Class IIII may be used for ballast, and Class I or II must be used for gold, silver, or other precious metals, precious stones and jewellery. 

    Directive 2004/22/EC

    The provisions of the MID are “optional” which means that Member States can choose the categories of instruments to regulate and the areas of legal control.  However, to the extent that a Member State does regulate, it is obliged to use the criteria of the directive in that regulation. 

    For the remaining instruments listed under the MID that are not regulated  in the UK a provision has been made in separate regulations in relation to  non-prescribed instruments  which allow such instruments to be approved and verified under the provisions of  the MID thereby allowing access to regulated markets in other Member States.

    The current regulations are as follows: 

    • The Measuring Instruments (Non-Prescribed Instruments) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/1270)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Automatic Gravimetric Filling Instruments) 2006 (SI 2006/1258)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Automatic Discontinuous Totalisers) 2006 (SI 2006/1255)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Beltweighers) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/1259)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Automatic Catchweighers) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/1257)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Automatic Rail-weighbridges) Regulations 2006(SI 2006/1256)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Capacity Serving Measures) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/1264)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Material Measures of Length) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/1267)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Liquid Fuel and Lubricants) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/1266)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Liquid Fuel delivered from Road Tankers) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/1269)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Cold-water Meters) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/1268)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Gas Meters) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/2647)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Active Electrical Energy Meters) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/1679)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Taximeter) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/2304)
    • The Measuring Instruments (Exhaust Gas Analysers) Regulations 2006(SI 2006/2164)

     

    NMRO

    Stanton Avenue
    Teddington
    Middlesex
    TW11 0JZ 

    updated July 2015