A shameless plug for your two-pin plug comments

by , Conversation Editor Energy & Home 31 January 2013
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
1 - 1
avatar

Two-pin plugs. Who would have thought such a topic would inspire so many comments. It seems being sent an electrical item without a UK plug turns most people off. Let’s have a look at some of your comments.

Two-pin EU plug

Most electricals should be delivered with a UK three-pin plug (some are exempt, like shavers and toothbrushes). The fact that some online retailers don’t do this started a lively debate.

There were loads of comments to choose from (more than 300 in fact), so I’m sorry if I’ve missed any of you out. Anyway, here’s Socketman to launch this comment round-up:

‘It is quite appalling that online sellers think it is OK to ignore UK law. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Trading Standards is organised on a local basis and find it difficult to tackle multi-national companies like Amazon.’

Amazon – let’s socket to them

Amazon was mentioned in a number of your comments, with third-party Amazon Marketplace sellers often posting out electricals with EU plugs. Alan bought a wireless adapter:

‘It came with a two-pin plug and extra adapter to connect up to a UK socket. Quite a cumbersome bit of kit. When I queried it with the supplier they said these were imported from Europe and they added the adapter for UK markets.’

It’s important to note that sending out an adapter isn’t good enough – any two-pin plugged appliance must be fitted with a conversion plug. Boglost bought a scanner:

‘It had a two-pin plug transformer on its cable. I didn’t realise that this type of plug was illegal in the UK and just considered it an inconvenience to use a two-pin adapter.’

Philip123 was also delivered a scanner with the wrong plug, but had a better experience:

‘I ordered a scanner in the summer and, finding it had a two-pin plug I returned it at [Amazon’s] request, for a refund. After a number of emails between us, in which they specifically claimed their stock had been checked at the warehouse and was now UK, not EU, I re-ordered. Same problem. As I really wanted the scanner I suggested they send me a £5 adapter or a credit note towards one. To my surprise they decided to give me 15% discount to keep the scanner and obtain my own adapter.’

Pulling the plug on two-pin plugs

Goodfoodie has had a bit of trouble with Argos:

‘I was bought a Kodak printer as a Christmas present, only to find the cable had a two-pin plug attached. Contacted Argos who offered to send me an adapter, which I declined stating that they had illegally supplied an item. I declined a refund as I want the item. Eventually I was put through to a supervisor and after several conversations […] they are posting me a correct cable.’

Not everyone was critical of two-pin plugged appliances. Sumbloke just fits UK plugs himself:

‘I buy most of my aquarium equipment online as there are massive savings to be had compared to buying from local aquatic dealers. Most of the equipment – heaters, filters and lighting come with two-pin plugs attached and a three-pin adapter is supplied for UK plug sockets. I just chop off the two-pin plug and install a three-pin plug. This is not an issue for me and I will certainly continue to support my favourite online dealers.’

If you, like Sumbloke, are happy to replace a two-pin plug with a its three-pinned cousin, make sure you know how to change a plug safely. But, of course, you really shouldn’t have to. Have you ever ordered electrical goods online just for it to arrive with a two-pin plug?

247 comments

Add your comments

avatar

Scott

I certainly found plenty of converters. Anyone receiving an appliance fitted with a Europlug would have no difficulty acquiring a converter. If the seller ‘happily proclaims’ that the item is fitted with a Europlug anyone with an ounce (or should that be 28 grammes?) of common sense would order a converter if they don’t have one.

avatar

greg miles

Of course most of us can change plugs but there are lots of old folk out there who can’t see well enough to do so which is why the regs were written in the first place. If you have regs they should be enforced, otherwise repeal them.

avatar

Scott

If you employed the services of Google you would see there is no need to change the plug as the whole point of the converter is to avoid the need to change the plug. I agree the regulations should be repealed as they stand in the way of freedom of movement of goods within the European Union and limit freedom of consumer choice, and there is nothing inherently dangerous about using a converter to allow a Europlug to be used in a UK 13 amp socket. Incidentally, I think you might find the ‘old folk’ (as you disparagingly put it) may have more of a clue about changing plugs than the younger generation who have probably never carried out this task.

avatar

George

This is not accurate: “there is nothing inherently dangerous about using a converter to allow a Europlug to be used in a UK 13 amp socket.”

UK sockets have a fuse for a reason. The mains work on a ring, and the fuse it to protect the cable from fire. Continental wiring systems are not the same, and they do not require a fuse in the plug. Every converter I have seen except a very expensive multi-way from Skross has not had a fuse. I wouldn’t be surprised if importing the adapter itself is illegal – many of them come from China and Taiwan for use in Singapore and other countries that also use the UK socket, but do not use the ring main system (the fuse is redundant).

In this instance, changing a plug

avatar

Scott

There has been a lot of discussion since I posted this comment in April. We are all now pretty much in agreement. All I would say (without wanting to reopen the argument) is that I was referring to a properly constructed and approved adapter, such as the ones found in Maplins for example. It is imperative to have a fuse as a Europlug is 2.5 amps and the UK ring main is 32 amps. I meant to say there is nothing inherently dangerous in using a correctly fitted adapter with the correct fuse to connect a Europlug. I appreciate that the Regulations place the responsibility on the supplier. I personally would feel confident to do the job myself. I would fit a 2 amp rather than 3 amp fuse.

avatar

Em

Interesting FAQs for sellers on Amazon:

“What type of products can’t I sell on Amazon.co.uk? …

… Prohibited content

Products that are not safe: All new toys and electrical equipment must be CE marked. All toys and electrical equipment, whether new or used, must be safe (that is, there is no risk that the equipment will cause death, personal injury or damage to property) and, where applicable, come with a UK standard three-pin plug. … Products not meeting these requirements are prohibited.”

And a very helpful page for their international sellers about the Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994 can be found here:

https://sellercentral-europe.amazon.com/gp/seller/registration/participationAgreement.html/ref=im_xx_cont_xx?itemID=201416530&language=en_GB

However, for all their guidance and disclaimers, it does not absolve Amazon UK of legal responsibility since it is Amazon that: ” … expose for supply and possess for supply [when they carry out the fulfilment] … ” electrical equipment that does not comply with the Regulations.

avatar

socketman

Em, my heartfelt congratulations in finding that Amazon page!

It would be very good if Amazon would enforce it, but they do not engage in policing activities, virtually never take action on reports of illegal activity from individuals, and rarely on interventions from Trading standards officers. I will post a separate message with a link to the archived version of a BBC Watchdog blog on the subject.

The Amazon document does have a glaring problem, under the heading “The following types of plugs will be accepted:” it says “Electric shaver, toothbrush or similar appliance with an EU plug”. “EU plug” is an entirely meaningless term, there are many different plugs used in the EU (including our own), there is certainly no one plug which could be described as an “EU Plug”. We assume that they mean a Europlug, but for this statement to be meaningful it must be changed to “Europlug conforming with BS EN 50075″ in accord with the description in the regulations themselves, which is:

“Any non–rewirable or any moulded–on Europlug (that is to say any plug conforming with BS EN 50075) which is designed for the purpose of connecting to a shaver supply unit conforming to BS 3535: Part 1 any electrical shaver, toothbrush or similar appliance; and for the purposes of this paragraph the expression “shaver supply unit” shall have the meaning given to it in BS 3535: Part 1.”

To compound their error they also illustrate the exceptions by showing only a shaver and a toothbrush with chargers having Europlug-like pins, but these do not come within the plug defined in BS EN 50075 and are not acceptable devices to supply in the UK as such chargers are not suitable to plug into shaver supply units.

avatar

socketman

The BBC Watchdog programme I mentioned above is unfortunately no longer available (the relevant segment was still viewable last year) but here is a link to an archive of the related blog:
http://web.archive.org/web/20131005042322/http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/watchdog/2008/12/08/

In this a Trading Standards officer, discussing Amazon’s listing of other prohibited items, is quoted as saying “We’re talking about something that’s officially classed as an offensive weapon. It’s not a grey area, it’s black and white. The law says you cannot possess these items in the UK. Certainly for things that are clearly illegal there should be systems in place to stop them even getting on the site.” he said rather more than that in the broadcast interview.

With regard to Amazon’s response to the issue back then (December 2008), you can see how serious they were by referring to these items of the same type which were on sale in early March this year:
http://www.bs1363.org.uk/March2014_sample_listings_Pepper_Spray_etc.pdf These products were removed by Amazon after a reference to this list was published on the Parliamentary publications website (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmpublic/consumer/memo/cr22.htm ). It was good that Amazon took that action a few weeks ago, but exposure on a TV programme, and exposure via Parliament, are rather extreme solutions for what should be a routine process of self-enforcement which does not depend on outside agencies!

avatar

socketman

Em, Are there any similar Amazon guidelines for other electrical products which should not be sold in the UK? I am thinking of things like fuseless plugs and other unapproved plugs which fit UK sockets but are not legal in the UK – but are not mentioned in those guidelines. Also, travel adaptors which fit UK sockets but do not have fuses and/or shutters, chargers which fit UK sockets but do not comply with the pin dimensions of BS 1363 (as thy must to be legal), and Universal Sockets which are not legal in the UK. These items are all available from Amazon sellers, often fulfilled by Amazon.

avatar

Scott

Suggesting that electrical items fitted with Europlugs can be equated with offensive weapons is misleading. Possession of an offensive weapon (in a public place) is an offence. Possession of a Europlug is not. The offence relates to the supply of equipment fitted with an unauthorised plug – not its possession – so the two categories are different.

avatar

Em

Socketman – I’ve no idea, but I can’t find any. I was selling some books on Amazon trade-in and started looking at other seller’s FAQs and was surprised to see some explicit (although, as you point out, not very accurate) guidance on UK plugs.

avatar

socketman

“Suggesting that electrical items fitted with Europlugs can be equated with offensive weapons is misleading.” Rubbish, it is a criminal offence to supply either item.

avatar

socketman

The parliamentary evidence I linked to above has a link to captured images of listings for five illegal electrical products being offered by Amazon.co.uk at the same time as the ten listings of CS Spray already mentioned. I have just checked on Amazon, all five electrical products are still available.

avatar

Scott

Socketman – Your posting contains the words ‘The law says you cannot possess these items in the UK’ so posting this into a Conversation about two pin plugs is with respect misleading.

avatar

socketman

Scott, it is not at all misleading.

The law governing plugs and sockets states: “no person shall supply, offer for supply, agree to supply, expose for supply or possess for supply any appliance unless that appliance is correctly fitted with a standard plug“.

Please respect the facts.

avatar

Scott

Happy with that, including the fact that in is NOT illegal to possess these items in the UK unlike offensive weapons and the Trading Standards officer was talking about prohibited items. I would not want anyone to think it is illegal to possess Europlugs in the UK. It is the supply that is criminalised not the possession.

avatar

wavechange

Scott

I have tried to explain why two-pin Europlugs can be dangerous in the UK. One of the main problems is that it is easy to insert them into a BS 1363 socket, especially where the protective shutter can be opened by inserting an object in the socket for the Earth pin. The main reason why this is dangerous is because the electrical item is then unfused except for the 30A fuse or 32A circuit breaker in the distribution board.

I have seen two-pin plugs put in three-pin sockets, both wall sockets and those in extension leads. I will not post links to videos showing this done, for obvious reasons.

You could argue that we don’t need to protect people that do stupid things, but I think we should. For example, UK sockets have shutters to protect us if we try to poke objects into the socket.

Replacing a two-pin plug with a three-pin fused plug is not necessarily a simple matter. Most of the plugs I have seen fitted by householders are unsatisfactory for some reason or other. Since these discussions I have had one diagram showing a ‘correctly’ wired plug and one video showing how to wire a plug removed from reputable websites because of safety issues. Factory-fitted moulded plugs have provided a great improvement in safety since the days when electrical goods were supplied without plugs.

Safety must take priority over international trade.

avatar

Scott

Wavechange – you have subtly altered what I said in my most recent post. I was pointing out that I do not consider use of an adapter to be inherently dangerous. My point about plugs was that Greg made a claim that ‘old folk’ (as he put it) were less able to change plugs and I was making the point that those who lived before fitted plugs became commonplace may well have a better idea of how to change a plug.

I appreciate we have had this argument may times, though on a different Conversation. My view is that the equipment is approved by the European Union for use with two pin sockets, no polarity requirement and a 16 amp fuse. Putting it into a converter plug with a three amp fuse exceeds what is required and cannot therefore be unsafe. An item that is safe to use in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia​, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal,
Republic of Ireland​, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden cannot suddenly become unsafe when it crosses the border into the United Kingdom.

avatar

wavechange

Scott – If electrical equipment is supplied with a suitably fused and FITTED converter plug, my only concern is that it could be removed to use on another item, leaving the potential hazard that I have mentioned.

Simply supplying a converter plug with a product does not comply with the regulations, and I very much support this. Converter plugs are larger than a standard BS 1363 plug, itself frequently criticised by those from other countries. That provides encouragement to put the plug directly into a three-pin socket. A converter plug really needs to be non-removable to be safe. If you would like to see some of the problems with fitting, just have a look at some of the negative reviews of these products on the websites of retailers.

If a component fails in a small electrical or electronic item protected by a small fuse, little damage is likely to be caused. I have seen many examples of items wrongly fitted with a 13 amp fuse, where extensive damage including burning has been caused. I used to keep several examples for training purposes to emphasise the importance of using a small fuse. I would not be happy if my small electrical goods were only protected by a 16 amp fuse, and that point has been made by many people over the years.

Perhaps older people were better at wiring plugs but I have been rewiring and replacing plugs since I was a teenager in the 60s and I saw some very poor practice when it was normal to fit plugs. As with anything else, if you train people they usually do a competent job.

avatar

malcolm r

Patrick Steen had a response from Amazon that included “Any seller found to contravene those guidelines will be subject to action from Amazon including removal of product listings and their account.” That seems a clear statement that illegal products, and their sellers, would not continue to be be listed. Are these empty words? The recent comments seem to think they are. Perhaps Amazon should be asked to respond and confirm their intent?

avatar

Scott

I would be interested to know if this policy relates only to products supplied from within the UK or fulfilled by Amazon in the UK – or if it applies to all electrical goods advertised on Amazon’s UK site.

My understanding is that only UK suppliers are covered by the Regulations. An option might be for Amazon to despatch such items from a warehouse outside the UK to avoid having to comply with UK Regulations, in the same way that CDs until recently were despatched from the Channel Islands to avoid VAT. This would ensure continued freedom of consumer choice. I ordered my toothbrush from the German site to make sure I received one with a Europlug.

avatar

socketman

Here we go again, Scott loves to try to mislead! Whether or not Amazon’s internal policy is meant by Amazon to apply only to UK suppliers is irrelevant, the regulations are quite clear:

“…. no person shall supply, offer for supply, agree to supply, expose for supply or possess for supply any appliance unless that appliance is correctly fitted with a standard plug”

If Amazon.co.uk advertises (exposes for supply) appliances (other than shavers or toothbrushes) fitted with Europlugs (no matter what the origin) then Amazon.co.uk is committing a criminal offence.

avatar

Scott

Socketman – you could be right. I had forgotten how widely the regulations are framed. It’s interesting though. You could argue whether, in the case of a third party supplier (not fulfilled by Amazon), Amazon is making the offer or merely undertaking advertising on behalf of another. You could also argue whether ‘expose’ means advertise (your interpretation) or whether it means placing the physical goods on display. I think a legal test case would be very helpful and I wonder if Which could arrange this.

avatar

malcolm r

Scott, if Amazon handle your payment in a transaction with a Marketplace trader – a third party – I’d argue that they might be responsible for the article supplied. Perhaps someone at Which? could help here? If you deal direct with the third party then presumably you have sole responsibility – in the same way as finding a product through Google or a newspaper ad would not leave any responsibility with Google or the paper.
Amazon’s terms include third party suppliers who don’t have “local addresses” – presumably therefore including those overseas, not just in the UK.
Generally the importer of a product is responsible for ensuring it meets UK regulations – CE marking compliance for example. As far as an Amazon purchase supplied from a warehouse outside the UK is concerned, they are still importing the product by distributing it to the seller and should comply.

avatar

Scott

Just a thought: does this make it illegal to sell two pin chargers to Brits for use abroad, leaving such persons having to use an adapter that may or may not be legal at the destination?

avatar

socketman

I know of no legal impediment to selling a charger having built-in non-UK pins (a “plug-top charger”). In fact the Plugs and Sockets Regulations are silent on “plug-top chargers”, they were quite rare at the time the regulations were framed. They are normally regarded as exclusions, the regulations exclude “Any plug, socket or adaptor which incorporates any other electrical device (other than a fuse link, switch or indicator light).”

We do need to have an update of the regulations. My belief is that would prohibit the sale of appliances including only non-UK “plug-top chargers”, but not the separate sale of such chargers (providing that they meet the relevant standards). This is perfectly justified for the reasons Scott mentions.

It remains important that mains-powered electrical goods sold in the UK are suitable for immediate attachment to UK sockets, that means that if the connection is via a flexible mains cord-with a plug, that plug must be a standard UK plug (with the toothbrush exception). If the connection is via a dedicated plug-top charger, that charger must be equipped with pins conforming to BS 1363. Plug-top chargers are generally unsuited to use in adaptors (and cannot be used with conversion plugs) because of the mechanics of the devices.

avatar

Scott

I agree we need an update of the regulations. I think you, me and Wavechange should volunteer to go on to the consultative committee. I suspect we would get on well in real life

avatar

socketman

What an excellent idea, let’s leave it to Patrick to propose it.

avatar

wavechange

Count me in. We have been fairly well behaved towards each other, so I think we deserve the opportunity to make a real input on this issue.

avatar

Seares

Isn’t this tedious?
Time to pull the plug!

avatar

Scott

Agreed. It’s been a live discussion, some people are neutral I suppose but it’s more important to get down to earth!

avatar

wavechange

That is a shocking example of childish humour, Scott. We had better get back on topic or Patrick might blow a fuse. :-)

avatar

socketman

Are those pins that are being inserted into my effigy?

I charge you all with going off topic! ;)

avatar

wavechange

We are in re-volt until we hear that Which? Has made some real progress on this problem. :-)

avatar

malcolm r

There seems to be some resistance from Which? in providing guidance on the legal position, and in taking up the issues raised with Amazon. Patrick, what is the current situation?

Hi Malcolm and Wavechange, we have again amped up the pressure on Amazon following their previous response to see what they’re actually doing on the issue. Please bear with us.

avatar

malcolm r

Keep plugging away Patrick. That’s it.

avatar

Scott

I’m still not phased by the controversy.

avatar

Stephen Hopkins

It hertz us, my Precious!

avatar

Aggie

I have a question regarding two pin plugs on electrical items bought in a European country outside of the UK which also has three and two pin sockets as standard …….

Does a retailer or seller have to supply an adapter, if a product has a European plug ?

avatar

socketman

Please explain further. Are you referring to a purchase made face-to-face in a non-UK country? If so, which one?

avatar

aggie

Malta, the country that is in the EU with its own rules !

avatar

socketman

It turns out that the answer is yes. The Maltese plug is the same as ours, the standard being “MSA BS 1363″. The Maltese Electrical Accessories Regulations, 2004 include requirements similar to ours. If the appliance is not fitted with a plug conforming to MSA BS 1363 then a conversion plug which cannot be removed without the use of a tool must be fitted by the supplier.

avatar

jonasacetben

Has the current legislation been tested in a court yet?
I am in a deadlock situation with a retailer who sold me a fridge with a two-pin plug and refuses to fit it with a UK plug. I am past the ‘letter before action’ stage. The next step is the small claims court.

avatar

Nigel Chapman

It has been illegal to sell electrical goods (except shavers and toothbrushes) in the UK for a number of years. It doesn’t matter if you can fit a 3 pin fused plug its still illegal for European style plug to be sold. But as long as the seller makes you aware that the item comes with a 2 pin plug then you can decide whether to purchase or not. Its the sellers that mislead you by not stating upfront this fact that really gets me annoyed. Even though probably most can rewire a plug, some can’t. When I buy items that are sold with being informed that it has a European plug I claim the cost of conversation. Most electricians will charge approx £11.50, so that’s what I claim back. Its only fair.

avatar

Scott

This is the received wisdom of the Conversation. The caveat I would add (which has prompted considerable debate) is that this applies only where purchase is made from or through a UK supplier. If you buy direct from abroad to save money, then my understanding is that the laws of that jurisdiction would apply with no entitlement to a UK plug any more than an American buying electrical goods from the UK could demand a 110 Volt model.

avatar

socketman

Whilst not wishing to reopen the disagreement about whether UK regulations can be made to control direct purchases from foreign suppliers I would point out the following:

1. The Plugs and Sockets regulations state that a seller must not offer to supply a product which does not comply with the regulations.

2. Amazon’s own rules prohibit offering a product which does not comply, even if the listing includes a statement that a non-UK plug is supplied.

3. eBay policy requires adherence to the Plugs and Sockets regulations for goods listed on eBay UK, and eBay international policies require that goods supplied from outside the UK which are made available to ship to the UK must also comply with the regulations.

avatar

Scott

Socketman – I would pretty much agree with that, unless you go out of your way to purchase direct from an overseas supplier – as I did !!! The same would apply I am sure if you bought an appliance from the US. It would be 110 volts.

avatar

Scott

Hi Socketman, I do not wish to reopen the ‘disagreement’ either as we now have a truce. However, as Nigel is new to the Conversation, I wanted to add some clarification (which I appreciate is open to interpretation). I entirely agree that where there is a UK intermediary, including an on-line presence, the UK regulations will apply eve if the goods are despatched from overseas. I was seeking to make the point that if you order direct from an overseas supplier (as I have done from the German Amazon site) you cannot then expect the UK rules to apply.

avatar

Seares

Just bought a Samsung laser printer from Amazon. It came with the standard UK 3-pin fused plug lead PLUS another lead with plug which diligent research turned out to be the Brazilian type (three round pins, the earth one offset). Luckily I know someone who is going to Brazil and may need this for his laptop.

avatar

socketman

It is not uncommon for manufacturers to supply two different leads in a box, that way they can cover several potential destinations with one standard package configuration. The most common I have seen is a UK plug plus a Europlug, but I suspect that what you may have got is a UK plug plus a Swiss plug as that would seem a more likely logistics decision than UK/Brazil. The Swiss earthing pin offset is 5mm, the Brazilian is only 3mm.

avatar

Seares

You are right, socketman! The offset is 5mm. The printer was made in China, but came via Switzerland and Amazon (not Amazonia). They must have slipped in the two leads en route.

avatar

Scott

For printers I’ve normally seem the Schuko hybrid plug (round with two pins and two side earths). I suppose it is cheaper to ship with two leads than to produce different boxes for different countries. I wonder what they do for Denmark which has its own plugs. Maybe they have similar issues with plugs and sockets regulations?

avatar

Sheldon Clark

Check “Schuko” on Wikipedia and follow the link re the proposed standard replacement for the Schuko. (This replacement avoids the potential polarity problems of the Schuko, which can be used upside down, connecting Neutral pin to Live supply (& vice versa). The replacement sounds like the Swiss and Brazilian types, but the body is a flattened hexagon that fits into a hexagonal cup or guide socket, and the position of the earth pin ensures correct polarity.

avatar

socketman

What it actually says is “The IEC 60906-1 standard was intended to address some of the issues in regards to polarisation and replace Schuko.” Note the WAS.

Here is what the “Brief History” tab on the IEC World Plugs page says:
“CENELEC, in Europe, was put under pressure by the European Commission to devise a harmonized plug and socket system for Europe. Incredible as it may seem, the economic consequences of the implementation of such a universal system were never assessed (not in Europe, nor elsewhere). The view of the Commission appears to have been based entirely on political considerations!
CENELEC took as its starting point the IEC standard of 1986 and spent thousands of man-hours undertaking the almost impossible task of modifying the design with the aim of ensuring 100% risk-free operation of the system when used in conjunction with all the existing plug types in Europe. Naturally, apart from the technical difficulties, there was the clash of the many vested commercial and political interests and it was not surprising that, after much work and many meetings, CENELEC had to admit defeat and abandon its efforts, much to the chagrin of the Commission.” (End of IEC quote)

Changing to a different plug type is just not going to happen, the infrastructure costs would be too great, not as high as changing which side of the road we drive, but equally unacceptable! That IEC page says that only Brazil and South Africa have adopted IEC 60906-1, but it is actually only South Africa. Despite adopting the standard in 2006, South Africa it has not yet made it a requirement to start fitting the new sockets, that may happen next year in new build situations. The switchover is expected to last for up to 20 years. Some of us can remember what it was like here in the 50s and 60s when, as well as the BS 1363 introduced in 1946, there were still in use 4 sizes of two-pin plugs in BS 372, 4 sizes of three-pin plugs in BS 546, various sizes of Wylex plug, and the Dorman Smith 13A type (which, despite not having been selected as the post-war standard, was used in some public housing new build through the ’50s). Imagine what it would be like for any western European country to make the switch now.

(What Brazil did was to take IEC 60906-1 as the basis for its own (non-compatible) standard, two versions instead of one, both different from the IEC standard in current rating and pin diameter, ignoring the shutter requirement which is mandated by IEC, and using them at both 127V and 220V with only a label to say which is which! IEC 60906-1 is specifically intended for 200-250V use only, and IEC adopted IEC 60906-2, basically the standard American 15A three pin plug, as the plug of choice for 100-130V systems. What Brazil has done is so odd as to be beyond comprehension!)

avatar

Scott

Thanks to Socketman for the authoritative description. I thought the idea of rewiring Europe (with or without the UK and ROI) would be a non-starter. Despite any favourable comments I have made about Europlugs during the Conversation, there is no doubt we have the best system for mains wiring. I assume UK retains an ‘opt-out’ in the event of any EU proposal to harmonise?

avatar

malcolm r

I’d suggest we take a lead on this and use our position in Europe to standardise on the BS 1363 plug across the European Community (EN 1363 perhaps). I don’t know whether Dave or Nigel would be best placed to force this through?

avatar

David

There’s very little possibility of much change really bad.

The vast majority of countries in the EU use the CEE 7/4 “Schuko” (German style with earth clips) or CEE 7/5 (French style with earthing pin) sockets. These are reversed making it impossible to touch the live pins of the 16 amp plugs and avoiding the need to sheath the pins.

These sockets accept CEE 7/7 – 16 amp earthed plugs. They also accept CEE 7/17 a 16 amp ‘contour’ plug only used as a moulded on plug on appliances that do not use earth like vacuum cleaners etc.

Then there’s the CEE 7/16 plug which is small, flat and has sheathed pins. This is rated 2.5 amps and only used for light, non earthed devices. It fits CEE 7 sockets as well as non standard Italian, Swiss, Danish and Israeli sockets.

CEE 7 is used by hundreds of millions of Europeans, Russians and South Koreans. It’s also widely used elsewhere.

Modern sockets are shuttered and some countries have required that for some time.

They’re a very safe system when installed correctly and modern.

RCD usage is also more universal in most continental countries than it is in the UK.

I think you’re very unlikely to see any change of standards other than the Danish and Italian systems fading away.

Schuko performs very well and like BS1363 it’s safe when installed correctly.

avatar

wavechange

The well known problem with Schuko plugs is that they are not polarised, which has serious safety implications, unless every single pole switch is replaced by a two pole switch.

Plugs that can be inserted either way round are convenient for phone chargers, where safety is not an issue.

avatar

socketman

David, please review what you write to ensure it actually makes sense before you post.

“There’s very little possibility of much change really bad.” ????

“These are reversed making it impossible to touch the live pins”, maybe you meant ‘These are recessed’?

Or maybe you were making a Freudian slip, because ‘reversal’ is one of the major shortcomings in Schuko and Europlugs which have no polarizing mechanism! As I think someone else has already mentioned in this or the companion discussion, it is important to be able to distinguish between Neutral, which is at approximately 0V (harmless) relative to ground and Line, which is approximately 230V (potentially lethal) relative to ground. In any sensible system it is not possible to put the plug in the wrong way round, thus connecting the appliance Neutral pin to the supply Line, and the appliance Line pin to the supply Neutral. Take a simple example of a table lamp with an Edison Screw bulb, the metal screw itself forms one of the contacts for the circuit and should always be connected to Neutral. If a lamp is plugged into a non-polarized socket, the metal screw can become energized, presenting an electric shock hazard to anyone touching it.

“They’re a very safe system when installed correctly and modern.” and there’s the rub. The majority of installed sockets do not have shutters, so are not safe for children. There are many older non-recessed sockets in use which accept the unsleeved pins and leave them exposed when the plug is partially inserted. (Yes, I know BS 1363 plugs have only had sleeved pins for the last 30 years, but the few unsleeved plugs in service can be easily changed by the appliance owner, a much easier task than refitting recessed socket throughout a building.) Most travel adaptors do not have recesses and also therefore leave unsleeved pins exposed. It is far too easy to use French and Schuko plugs in sockets or adaptors which provide them with no earth connection (and how many users realize what danger they are putting themselves in by doing that?)

RCD usage has nothing to do with it, whilst universal RCD usage should be the norm, it cannot save you from all danger.

Schuko is a fundamentally flawed system, it would only be actually safe if used in a an unreal world without non-compliant sockets, no appliances was ever designed without taking account of its lack of polarity, and no ES lamps existed. Such a Utopia has not, does not, and will not exist.

The only part of this post that actually makes sense is your estimate of the improbability of change.

avatar

wavechange

Socketman – Do you know if the side contacts of a Schuko plug/socket combination fare in Earth continuity tests? Even though there are two contacts, the contact area seems rather small and I guess that dirt could accumulate in the recesses at the side of the plug.

avatar

socketman

I have no information on that, but as the contact is still achieved with a sprung resilient member and is a scraping contact I am not sure that it would be much different to a pin and socket.

avatar

Scott

Wavechange raises a point I had not fully appreciated. If only the neutral is switched, and someone changes an Edison screw bulb in the belief the lamp is switched off, then either touches the metal or the glass breaks, there would then be a potentially lethal situation. I assumed where the plug is non-polarised a two pole switch would be mandatory. I was taught that gripping a live conductor was more serious than touching it so this is a truly hazardous scenario. I expect advice is to disconnect from the mains (for a lamp) and that lighting circuits will have polarity respected.

avatar

wavechange

There are many reasons why lack of polarisation can be dangerous. Staying with simple examples, if someone pokes a knife into a toaster to dislodge a jammed piece of bread without removing the plug, they could be electrocuted even though the toaster itself is switched off. I have seen this done. Schuko and other non-polarised plugs are good examples of poor design.

Back to top

Post a Comment

Commenting guidelines

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked

Tired of typing your name and email? Why not register.

Register or Log in

Browse by Category

Consumer Rights

742 Conversations

9018 Participants

25724 Comments

Energy & Home

616 Conversations

6801 Participants

23139 Comments

Money

795 Conversations

5791 Participants

14916 Comments

Technology

754 Conversations

7127 Participants

18421 Comments

Transport & Travel

586 Conversations

4621 Participants

13052 Comments