The safety of Electrical Goods in the UK Contents

2Electrical Product Safety in the UK

The EU and UK Systems of product safety

3.The UK’s system of product safety is heavily intertwined with that of the EU. Producers and importers are required under the General Product Safety Regulations 20058 to take immediate corrective action if they become aware a product is unsafe. This action might entail a product recall, modification, repair or other process.9 The industry is also required to ensure that consumer products are safe under the General Product Safety Directive (GPSR) (2001/95/EU) and other EU-wide-sector product safety laws.10 These are enforced in the UK by market surveillance authorities, mainly local Trading Standards.11 EU legislation also requires enforcement authorities to communicate on unsafe products, mainly through the EU’s RAPEX system.12

International, EU and UK Safety Standards

4.There are a number of international, European and UK standards bodies which inform and influence the safety of UK products. These are set out in Box 1.13

Box 1: Standards Bodies and UK Product Safety

5.In a globalised economy, ensuring product safety must always be a multi-national activity. ISO at the international level,14 CEN15 and CENELEC16 at the European level, and the British Standards Institute (BSI) at the UK level are private bodies which bring together businesses and other interested parties to agree standards for consumer products. Standards are often voluntary, although some are referenced in EU legislation. The BSI represents the UK within European and international standards organizations.17

6.All consumer goods sold in the UK must carry a ‘CE mark’.18 This is a manufacturer’s proof that an appliance is compliant with relevant EU legislation, including standards for product safety. It signifies compliance only with a certain set of EU legislation that specifically mandates CE marking. Therefore, the CE marking of a consumer ‘white good’ is in some cases in addition to other legal requirements.19 There are also voluntary standards issued by the British Standards Institute—Kitemark standards—which manufacturers of electrical appliances may seek to meet.20

The UK system of product recall and product safety

7.UK product recalls are implemented through the GPSR, requiring manufacturers to inform their local Trading Standards services of any issue that poses a serious or moderate risk to health and safety. If a recall is required, manufacturers must contact affected consumers and publicise the risk posed and details of the recall. This must be supported by the distribution chain (e.g. retailers) to ensure that the recall communication reaches as many customers as possible.21 Product safety and product recalls are mainly enforced by local trading standards officers. Trading Standards also have a responsibility to stop unsafe products entering the country at ports, remove unsafe products already on the market, conduct random sampling, offer advice and assistance to business and investigate reports of unsafe products.22 Since 2008, manufacturers and local Trading Standards have been able to form Primary Authority partnerships, which enable a single local authority to become the point of contact between the regulatory system and the manufacturer.23

Problems with the UK’s system of product safety and product recall

Fragmented System of Product Safety

8.The UK’s present system of product safety is fragmented. There are several bodies involved (see Box 224), with some performing multiple roles.

Box 2: Consumer Protection Bodies

The current system is heavily reliant on individual local Trading Standards to enforce product safety law and oversee product recall. Unlike the systems in other countries, there is no single independent body responsible for national oversight and co-ordination.25 The Government has improved the overall coordination of consumer protection bodies with the introduction of the Consumer Protection Partnership and the establishment of National Trading Standards (NTS) in 2012. However, the National Audit Office (NAO) has identified that there are still problems with the sharing of information between relevant organisations.26 In addition, BEIS has little control over the majority of funding for consumer safety, which is allocated locally, making effective national prioritisation difficult. The NAO found that few local authority Trading Standards appear able to organise their service to reflect national priorities.27 It also found that, at the same time, a lack of resources for NTS is leading to a lack of long-term planning.28 Which? have highlighted a paucity of central expertise upon which to draw.29 The National Audit Office concluded such gaps were leaving consumers “inadequately protected”.30

Sharing of data and intelligence

9.There is no single register to ascertain whether products are subject to a product recall,31 or for consumers to register their products, making them easier to trace.32 Nor is there a systemic approach to recording and analysing incidents related to defective products, as is the case in other European countries.33 For instance, there is no obligation for anybody other than manufacturers, such as insurance companies, to notify Trading Standards if they become aware of a safety issue.34 Manufacturers have been criticised for failing to share risk assessments regarding product defects and not adequately marking them so that they can be identified after a fire.35 At present, products subject to a recall in other countries are not automatically reported in the UK for inclusion on any UK list of recalled products.36

The Independence of Local Trading Standards

10.The independence of local Trading Standards within Primary Authority partnerships has been questioned because they provide both advice to local businesses whilst also ensuring enforcement.37 Apart from expensive recourse to judicial review, there appears no route for other local authorities, public interest groups or fire safety authorities to challenge a Primary Authority’s advice.38 This has led to calls for an independent national product safety agency that can deal with businesses at a national level, taking into account the wider implications of a product safety or recall issue. We explore this issue further in Chapter 5.

Funding for Trading Standards

11.Trading standards are delivered by over 190 services in local authorities, enforcing 263 statutory duties ranging from animal welfare to product safety. Funding is primarily provided by local government: in 2015–16, BEIS provided £18.1m and local government £93m.39 However, cuts to local government budgets have affected local Trading Standards’ ability to deliver these services. Between 2009 and 2016 total spending on local Trading Standards fell from £213m to £123m.40 The NAO reported that the vast majority of local authorities have reduced their spending on Trading Standards services, with twenty local authorities reducing spending by more than 60% between 2010–11 and 2015–16.41 One local authority cut trading standards funding by 73% over this period.42 This has led to a reduction by 56% of full-time equivalent Trading Standards staff between 2009 and 2016.43

12.These considerable reductions in funding have led—not surprisingly in the light of the range of functions undertaken—to a reduction in market surveillance tasks on product safety carried out by Trading Standards.44 A study commissioned by BEIS found that this has led to a loss of expertise to deal with what are often very technical issues.45 In addition, because local Trading Standards do not receive central funding for the cost of recalls—unlike other regulatory bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive—local councils may take a risk averse approach in case a business fails and they have to meet the cost, as they are legally responsible for the recall.46 The Government has acknowledged the funding concerns for local Trading Standards raised by the NAO. The Minister responsible, Margot James MP, said the following to the Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee:

Its report gives rise to concerns … about the extent of the reduction in budget for local trading standards around the country. That, as I am sure you know, is the preserve of local government, and it is obviously down to local government to order its priorities and so forth.47

13.The NAO have also raised concerns about the funding of National Trading Standards. This includes whether an annual budget of £13.5m is sufficient to cover all its tasks and to plan long-term, a heavy reliance on short-term staffing arrangements and the fact that its funding ran out part of the way through 2015–16.48 The reductions in funding for both local Trading Standards and National Trading Standards have been well documented; we share concerns about the impact these are having on the product safety regime in the UK. The devolved and fragmented nature of the current system makes it difficult for consumers to have confidence in consistent enforcement and effective co-ordination on the sharing of information and the setting of priorities at a national level. The wide range of responsibilities falling to local Trading Standards and the tightening of resource constraints present a risk that—in the absence of central government intervention—product safety may lose out to other legitimate priorities. We consider in Chapter 5 the case for a rethink of how the UK’s product safety system is resourced and structured.

Government action on product safety

Independent Review of the UK’s product recall system

14.In November 2014, the Government announced a review of the UK’s system for the recall of unsafe products,49 and on 13 March 2015 announced that Lynn Faulds Wood would lead it.50 Her report was published in February 2016. It concluded that the UK’s product recall system was flawed and made eight key recommendations, set out in Box 3.51

Box 3: Recommendations of the Independent Review into Product Recalls

  • Recommendation 1: There is a need for the creation of an official national product safety agency or ‘centre of excellence’ to show leadership and coordinate the system, promoting, protecting, informing and empowering business and consumers
  • Recommendation 2: There should be an official trusted website—for business and the public—for everyone—with the central product safety agency its guardian
  • Recommendation 3: There is an urgent need to improve funding, training, resources and procedures for Market Surveillance—the enforcement authorities whose job it is to make the system work effectively
  • Recommendation 4: Alternative funding solutions to improve the recall system should be explored, solutions which could bring enormous benefits to good business and the insurance industry
  • Recommendation 5: Business could lead Europe with more reliable, detailed guidance on product recall (templates, British Standards etc.)—guidance under consideration for the European General Product Safety Directive
  • Recommendation 6: There is an urgent need for a ‘mapping’ of organisations involved in product recall and better data & information sharing to prevent injury, damage and death
  • Recommendation 7: There is a need to re-introduce a national Injury database with wider benefits beyond providing information & evidence for the recall system
  • Recommendation 8: There is a need to improve consumer interest and involvement in the recall process—to research evidence-based ways to reach consumers and influence their behaviour

Government response and the Recall Review Steering Group

15.The immediate response by the Government to the report in February 2016 suggests that the Government did not given it the full consideration that it merited.52 The Government indicated that a new central product agency would not be an effective use of taxpayers’ money, proposing instead an online ‘centre of excellence’.53 On funding, it said it would await a review of Trading Standards and would improve existing groups and networks.54 It set up a steering group to consider the findings of this review.55

The Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety

16.In October 2016, a new Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety, supported by a BEIS secretariat, was announced, bringing together key stakeholders to consider wider issues of product safety and recall.56 On 19 July 2017, the Government published the Working Group’s report.57 In his foreword, the Working Group chair, Neil Gibbons, said that unlike other sectors, there was a disconnect between central Government and front line services on consumer product safety matters when technically difficult decisions around corrective actions and recalls were made.58 The report noted some progress. The British Standards Institute had drawn up a detailed proposal for consultation on a code of practice on product service corrective action (including recall).59 The Working Group had looked at improving Primary Authority voluntary relationships between local authorities and product manufacturers, importers and retailers.60 It also explored increasing consumer registration of appliances.61 It made a number of recommendations, set out in Box 462:

Box 4: Key Recommendations of the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety

A need for centralised technical and scientific resource capability to support decision making and co-ordination of activity of Local Authorities and the businesses that they regulate.

A detailed Code of Practice should be developed with input from all relevent stakeholders; this should be informed by behavioural insights research. This should set out expected good practice with regard to product safet corrective actions (including recalls).

Full consdierations should be given to establishing central capacity to co-ordinate product safet corrective actions at a central level.

Systematic and sustainable ways to capture and share data and intelligence should be established and agreed by relevent parties—this should make use of existing systems used by Trading Standards and the Fire Service.

Manufacturers and retailers should continue to work together and through standards setting bodies to develope technological solutions to product marking and identificiation.

Primary Authority provides a key mechanism for ensuring that businesses, local authority and BEIS expertise is shared to ensure the protection of consumers.

That registration of appliances and other consumer goods with manufacturers by consumers should be encouraged to make corrective actions (including recalls) more effective.

17.On 1 November 2017, the Minister responsible for consumer issues, Margot James MP, stated that the Government intended to publish its response to the Report and a new code of practice for recalls by the end of 2017.63

Progress on product safety

18.We are concerned by the lack of progress made in implementing the recommendations made by Lynn Faulds Wood, almost two years ago. The recommendations she made are sensible and have been supported by a range of stakeholders.64 Several stakeholders have been concerned at the lack of action, including Lynn Faulds Wood herself, who was reported as saying of the reaction of Ministers to her review: “I thought it was shocking. It made me feel they had wasted my time and a lot of other people’s time.”65 It is evident that the Government, rather than accepting the findings of the review it commissioned, have instead repackaged and watered down its proposals through subsequent steering groups and working groups.66 Frustration at the pace of progress almost made the National Fire Chiefs withdraw from the original steering group overseeing implementation of Faulds Wood’s recommendations; they told us that they were also disappointed with the lack of urgency in the Working Group report published in July.67

19.Progress on improving the safety of electrical goods has been painfully slow. The Lynn Faulds Wood Review was published nearly two years ago, and made a number of sensible suggestions to improve product safety which are widely supported. It is disappointing that her recommendations have still not been implemented but instead watered down by further reviews. The Government has not presented clear reasons for this further delay. We recommend that the Government publish a full response to the Faulds-Wood Review, not subsequent iterations, by the end of February 2018 at the latest.

9 House of Commons Library, Whirlpool and the product safety system, (21 April 2017), p 5

10 For more detail about the General Product Safety Directive, see the European Commission’s website.

11 House of Commons Library, Whirlpool and the product safety system, (21 April 2017), p 5.

12 The RAPEX enables quick exchange of information between 31 European countries and the European Commission about dangerous non-food products posing a risk to health and safety of consumers. It publishes a weekly list summarising affected products. For more information on the RAPEX system see the European Commission’s website.

14 See: ISO, homepage.

15 See: CEN, who we are. For an overview of the European standards body see: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, homepage.

16 See: CENELEC, who we are.

17 See: BIS group, UK National Standards Body.

18 For more information on the EU’s CE mark system see European Commission’s website. See also: BEIS, How a product complies with EU safety, health and environmental requirements, and how to place a CE marking on your product, (October 2012).

19 House of Commons Library, Product Safety and Fire Risk in Residential Premises, (31 October 2017) pp 4–5.

20 The Kite Mark Standard applies to several sectors including Electrical, Electrical Accessories and Lighting sectors. See: BSI group, BSI Kitemark. It indicates that a product meets applicable and appropriate British, European and international recognised standards.

21 House of Commons Library, Whirlpool and the product safety system, (21 April 2017), p 5.

22 The European Commission states that Market Surveillance: ensures that non-food products on the EU market do not endanger consumers and workers; ensures the protection of other public interests such as the environment, security and fairness in trade; includes actions such as product withdrawals, recalls and the application of sanctions to stop the circulation of non-compliant products and/or bring them into compliance.

23 See:, Primary Authority: a guide for local authorities. In the case of Whirlpool, Peterborough Trading Standards is the relevant local authority.

24 National Audit Office, Protecting consumers from scams, unfair trading and unsafe goods, (HC 851; December 2016), p 16.

25 Q3 [Peter Moorey]; Which?, Strengthening the consumer product safety regime, (July 2017), p 1; Lynn Faulds Woods, UK consumer product recall: An independent review, (February 2016), p 6.

26 The NAO notes that a number of local Trading Standards record very few intelligence logs, meaning under-reporting of product safety issues. Trading Standards also use two different national intelligence systems, while consumer protection bodies have limited access to other government agencies databases. National Audit Office, Protecting consumers from scams, unfair trading and unsafe goods, (HC 851; December 2016), p 27.

27 National Audit Office, Protecting consumers from scams, unfair trading and unsafe goods, (HC 851; December 2016), p 8.

28 As above p 9.

30 National Audit Office, Protecting consumers from scams, unfair trading and unsafe goods, (HC 851; December 2016), p 10.

31 London Fire Brigade, A single, publicly accessible register of product recalls, (accessed 19 December 2017); Lynn Faulds Woods, UK consumer product recall: An independent review, (February 2016), p 6; Which?, Strengthening the consumer product safety regime, (July 2017), p 26; Local Government Association, LGA responds to Which? report on product safety and recall system, (19 July 2017).

32 See: Lynn Faulds Woods, UK consumer product recall: An independent review, (February 2016), p 18; Electrical Safety First, Consumer Voices on Product Recall, (2014), pp 9–13.

33 Q6 [Martyn Allen]; Q8 [Charlie Pugsley]; Lynn Faulds Woods, UK consumer product recall: An independent review, (February 2016), p 8; Which?, Strengthening the consumer product safety regime, (July 2017), p 26.

35 See: London Fire Brigade, Publish Risk Assessments, (accessed 18 December 2017); London Fire Brigade, Mark all appliances with model and serial number so they can be identified after a fire, (accessed 18 December 2017).

36 London Fire Brigade, Include recalls on international products on the UK register, (accessed 18 December 2017).

37 Which?, Strengthening the Consumer Product Safety Regime, (July 2017), p 16–17. See discussion of the Whirlpool case in Chapter 3.

38 As above p 16.

39 National Audit Office, Protecting consumers from scams, unfair trading and unsafe goods, (HC 851; December 2016), p 17.

40 Briefing supplied by Chartered Trading Standards Institute.

41 National Audit Office, Protecting consumers from scams, unfair trading and unsafe goods, (HC 851; December 2016), p 35.

42 Q62 [Leon Livermore]; Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Workforce Survey, (June 2016), p 4.

43 National Audit Office, Protecting consumers from scams, unfair trading and unsafe goods, (HC 851; December 2016), p 35. The NAO also found that reduced funding was leading to increased fragmentation at a local level, with smaller units unable to support national issues (p 36).

44 Q2 and Q3 [Charlie Pugsley]; Q3 [Martyn Allen]; Q62 [Leon Livermore]; Lynn Faulds Woods, UK consumer product recall: An independent review, (February 2016), p 8, p 13–14 and p 20. The NAO note that trading standards are responsible for 263 different pieces of legislation. NAO, Protecting consumers from scams, unfair trading and unsafe goods, (HC 851; December 2016), p 32.

45 John Raine et al., The Impact of Local Authority Trading Standards in Challenging Times, commissioned by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Trading Standards Institute (March 2015), p 5.

46 Lynn Faulds Woods, UK consumer product recall: An independent review, (February 2016) p 20.

47 House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee, Corrected oral evidence: Brexit: Consumer Protection Rights, (19 December 2017), Q55.

48 National Audit Office, Protecting consumers from scams, unfair trading and unsafe goods, (HC 851; December 2016), p 9 and p 40.

49 HL Hansard, 19 November 2014, col. 505.

51 Lynn Faulds Woods, UK consumer product recall: An independent review, (February 2016), pp 6–9.

52 Lynn Faulds Wood has stated that she did not thing that the Government had taken her Review seriously. See: BBC News Online, Government ‘failing on product safety’, (19 June 2017).

54 As above. The Government stated in August 2016 that the evidence and material from the Review of Trading Standards would be taken forward as part of the Cutting Red Tape Review of Local Authority Regulation and Enforcement. See: HL WA HL1312.

55 HC Hansard, 13 September, 2016, col. 876

56 BIS, Information about the Working Group on Product Recalls and Safety, (November 2016). The meetings notes for the Working Group can be found here.

58 As above, p 4.

59 As above pp 21–22. It noted that taking this forward as a project would require 9 months from project initiation to project completion to ensure that the proposed code learnt from, and did not conflict with, existing sector specific codes of practice.

60 As above p.23.

61 As above p.24.

62 As above p. 5.

63 HC Hansard, 1 November 2017, col. 407WH.

64 Q45–Q 48 [Peter Moorey]; Q142 [Leon Livermore]; Which?, Strengthening the Consumer Product Safety Regime, (July 2017), p 16–17; HC Hansard, 1 November 2017, col. 388WH; Leigh Day, Product safety lawyer ‘extremely disappointed’ by lack of progress on product recall, (19 July 2017).

66 Q48 [Peter Moorey]

67 Q51 -Q54 [Charlie Pugsley]

11 January 2018