Guidance

Primary Authority: a guide for trade associations

A guide for trade associations and other organisations that help groups of businesses manage their regulatory activity as a co-ordinator.

To join Primary Authority, please read this guide then either:

Primary Authority benefits groups of businesses by helping them reduce regulatory uncertainty and comply with the law more effectively.

As a co-ordinator, you can form a legal partnership with a local authority (known as the primary authority) to provide advice on trading standards, environmental health and fire safety legislation that is tailored to the needs of your member group of businesses. Enforcing authorities should respect this advice when regulating your member businesses.

Participating in Primary Authority can make membership of your organisation more beneficial because it reduces the risk of contravening legislation. Provided that your members follow the advice they are given, they can be confident that they are complying with the law. This allows your members to invest with confidence in products, practices and procedures, knowing that the resources they devote to compliance will be recognised around the country.

Who qualifies as a co-ordinator?

Primary Authority is open to any group of businesses that have a co-ordinator to manage their relationship with the primary authority. Co-ordinators are often trade associations or franchisors that have an ongoing relationship with the businesses. Businesses in the group will usually operate in a similar way, and face similar regulatory challenges.

If a business has more individual regulatory challenges, it may be better to set up its own partnership with a local authority. This is called a direct partnership. Find out more about direct partnerships.

The role of the co-ordinator

Co-ordinators have a statutory role within Primary Authority which is explained fully in part F of the statutory guidance.

Your role as a co-ordinator will include:

  • liaising with the primary authority about Primary Authority Advice and any inspection plan and disseminating this to relevant member businesses
  • maintaining an up to date list of members and ensuring that this is available to enforcement officers who request it

As co-ordinator you will have effective two-way communication with your member businesses to:

  • understand the regulatory challenges faced by the businesses and their need for advice and co-ordination of inspection activity
  • ensure that your members are aware that they have a co-ordinated primary authority and what that means

You can get more detailed information about the role of co-ordinators in sections 25 and 26 of the statutory guidance.

Primary Authority Advice

Your primary authority can provide Primary Authority Advice that’s tailored to the needs of your member businesses. Enforcing authorities must respect this advice when regulating your members.

Primary Authority Advice can help your members understand:

  • how legal requirements apply to them
  • how they can achieve compliance
  • whether the controls they have in place are acceptable

Primary Authority Advice is assured which means that provided members follow it, they should be protected against the risk of enforcement action from authorities that have different views on what they should be doing to achieve compliance.

As a co-ordinator, you can help your primary authority understand the regulatory needs and working practices of your members. This will help them create Primary Authority Advice that’s right for your members.

Your primary authority can involve relevant supporting regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive or the Food Standards Agency in the development of Primary Authority Advice.

Primary Authority Advice is made available to enforcing officers using the secure online service that supports the operation of Primary Authority, the Primary Authority Register.

You can get more detailed information about Primary Authority and enforcement action in section 27 of the statutory guidance.

Inspection plans

Your primary authority can provide you with an inspection plan that can be used for some or all of the members in your group. An inspection plan sets out how enforcing officers from any local authority should undertake inspection activity at your member businesses.

Enforcing officers should check the Primary Authority Register to see whether an inspection plan exists for your member businesses before they visit.

If your primary authority decides to create an inspection plan for the businesses, it must be approved by the Secretary of State before being made available to enforcing officers via the Primary Authority Register. The primary authority will also consult supporting regulators where necessary.

Discuss with your primary authority whether an inspection plan might be appropriate for the businesses you work with and how it could be used.

You can get more detailed information about Primary Authority and inspection plans in section 29 of the statutory guidance.

Enforcement action

Provided that your member businesses follow the Primary Authority Advice you’ve given them, they shouldn’t face enforcement action from an authority that has a different view on whether compliance is being achieved.

An enforcing authority has to notify your primary authority if it intends to take enforcement action against one of your members. Your primary authority can block the enforcement action if it conflicts with Primary Authority Advice that has been given. There are some limited exemptions - for example where urgent action is required.

You can get more detailed information about Primary Authority and enforcement action in section 28 of the statutory guidance.

Getting started

Follow these steps to set up a co-ordinated Primary Authority partnership.

Step 1 – Choose the areas of regulation in which you would like the support of a primary authority

Primary Authority covers the following areas of regulation:

  • environmental health
  • trading standards
  • fire safety

Your partnership doesn’t need to address all regulatory aspects of your member businesses, just the ones you want support with. If your primary authority isn’t able to cover all the areas of regulation relevant to the needs of your member businesses, you can find an additional partner or partners to cover the other areas.

If you have member businesses which trade in England and Wales you may wish to consider having a primary authority in both nations for areas of legislation that are devolved to the Welsh Government.

Step 2 – Find potential partners

It’s up to you which primary authority you choose to partner with. You could choose a partner that’s located near your headquarters, or that you already have a good working relationship with, or that specialises in regulatory areas of interest to your members.

Step 3 – Agree the scope of the relationship and how it will be managed

Once you have identified a prospective partner, it’s important to be clear about what your group of members need from the relationship. Make sure that you discuss the following:

  • what kind of relationship you have with the businesses in your group
  • what you expect to get out of the partnership
  • what the objectives are, and how both parties will work together to achieve them
  • which regulatory areas you need the partnership to cover
  • how you’ll communicate with your primary authority
  • how you will meet your responsibilities as a co-ordinator
  • how regularly you intend to meet with one another and whether these meetings need to be formal or informal
  • whether you need an inspection plan to cover the businesses in your group, and what kind of Primary Authority Advice they will need
  • whether any supporting regulator should be consulted, for example the Health and Safety Executive and Food Standards Agency
  • who the main contacts will be for both parties
  • whether you have member businesses which trade in more than one nation of the UK
  • how the costs will be structured, and what the overall cost will be
  • the Primary Authority terms and conditions

This discussion will inform your summary of partnership arrangements, which is an agreement covering how you and your primary authority intend to run the partnership.

Step 4 – Agree costs and payment terms

The cost of your Primary Authority partnership will depend on how much work your primary authority does for you. It may charge enough to cover its costs but cannot make a profit.

When you start talking to a local authority about forming a partnership, you should discuss what you need them to do for you and how much this might cost.

Some primary authorities will offer to perform agreed services on the basis of a fixed fee for a number of hours work. Others may offer to work with you on a cost-per-hour basis. These arrangements should be agreed with you in advance of the partnership setting up.

Step 5 – Work with your primary authority to nominate the co-ordinated partnership

Your primary authority will start an online application in the Primary Authority Register. You will then receive an email inviting you to log on to the Register and complete the application. This sets out basic information about your organisation and your group of member businesses, plus the kind of relationship you wish to have with your primary authority.

When you have completed the application it is received by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (Safety & Standards), which checks the form and arranges for nomination by the Secretary of State. Once that’s confirmed, you’ll be notified by email and your partnership will appear on the Primary Authority Register.

Step 6 – Make sure that details are kept up to date when things change

Work with your partner to keep details updated in the Primary Authority Register. You will also need to keep your membership list updated to ensure that the right businesses are benefiting from your co-ordinated partnership.

The Primary Authority Register

The Primary Authority Register is a secure online service that supports the operation of Primary Authority.

The service includes a Public Register where the names of businesses in direct partnerships and co-ordinators are available along with the names of their primary authorities. The Public Register can also display names of businesses that are already benefiting from a co-ordinated primary authority.

Enforcement officers can log into the secure area of the Register to find out further details about Primary Authority partnerships, including whether any Primary Authority Advice and inspection plans have been issued to businesses they are inspecting.

Managing membership

Enforcing officers need to be able to find out which businesses are a member of your group. There are several ways for you to make this information available.

  1. You can upload this information into the Primary Authority Register and keep it up to date in there
  2. If you prefer to maintain your membership list elsewhere, such as on your own website, you can link to the list from the Register
  3. If you do not wish to publish your membership list online, you can meet your obligations by supplying it to enforcement authorities on request

You can get more detailed information about managing membership lists in section 26.5 to 26.14 of the statutory guidance.

Working groups

A number of working groups managed by Safety & Standards help shape the future development of Primary Authority.

Working groups draw upon the experience and insight of businesses, co-ordinators and local authorities presently working in partnership.

Further information

You can find more detailed information about Primary Authority by reading the statutory guidance.

Published 1 October 2017