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Two-pin plugs – it’s just not British

Two-pin plug

Have you ever been sent a household appliance with a two-pin plug – the type you’d find on mainland Europe? We’ve heard from a number of people who have – little do they know that this is against the law.

It’s actually illegal for UK retailers to sell most domestic electrical products (not for example shavers, electric toothbrushes or items with rcd plugs) with two-pin plugs under the Plugs and Sockets Safety Regulations 1994. Most domestic appliances must be fitted with an approved three-pin British plug or an approved conversion plug.

Plugs – when two-pins aren’t enough

We wanted to dig deeper to see how widespread this problem was. So we surveyed 1,321 Which? members and found that one in 20 had bought a product online that came with an incorrect plug. A third of those were Amazon (including its Marketplace) customers.

We asked Amazon about this and it pointed us to its returns policy. And although this is fairly generous (30 days for any items sold by, or fulfilled by, Amazon), the policy doesn’t address the fact that sending these items in the first place is in breach of two sets of regulations. These are the Plugs regulations mentioned before and the Sale of Goods Act. If you receive an item with a two-pin plug, you can reject it as unfit for purpose under the Sale of Goods Act. We’ll be taking this up with Amazon to find out what it’s planning to do to prevent this.

In the meantime, is this something that’s ever happened to you? What sort of appliance did you get with a two-pin plug, and did you have any luck getting it changed for a model with a three-pin British plug?

[UPDATE APRIL 2014] – due to the volume of comments made here we got in touch with Amazon to ask about the problem of products with two-pin plugs being sold on its website:

“At Amazon, we are committed to providing our customers with the best possible shopping experience. All sellers on Amazon Marketplace must adhere to our selling guidelines. Any seller found to contravene those guidelines will be subject to action from Amazon including removal of product listings and their account. The Amazon A-to-z Guarantee provides additional protection for customers who buy from Amazon.co.uk’s third party Marketplace and if a customer received the item, but the item was defective, damaged, or not the item depicted in the seller’s description, we will refund or replace that item. For more information on our A-to-Z Guarantee please visit our website.”

Comments
Member

I wonder why rechargeable toothbrushes and rechargeable shavers have a two pin plug when shaver sockets are generally not intended for more than short term use. Often there is a warning that they are not intended for charging anything and I have seen melted shaver sockets when they have been used in this way.

Meanwhile back on topic, I have received computer accessories supplied with two leads – one with two pins and one with a conventional BS1363/A British 3 pin plug. Like having an instruction book in 43 languages, it is not a serious problem even if it is a waste of resources.

Member
Kelly says:
14 December 2012

I bought a digital set top box for my TV from a local Euronics electrical retailer. The box was faulty and the manager of the shop was very reluctant to give me a refund, he refused for a long time and was rude. Eventually he agreed to give me a refund – by cheque.

Member

I hope it did not have a two-pin plug. The Euronics logo is – or was – a three-pin plug. 🙂

Member
Kelly says:
15 December 2012

Yes it did have a 2 pin plug, and there was some kind of converter thing in the box that I was supposed to fit to the plug, and screw closed. Not a happy customer, I’ll not be back in that shop again.

Member

I have an old Sony VCR like that. The lead has a two pin plug and that fits inside a rather large three pin plug. I wondered why the plug was so large so I took it apart to find out. It was also fitted with the wrong fuse, but that is not uncommon.

Member
William France says:
15 December 2012

I live in France. Here, although new installations have to be earthed, the majority of houses do not have earths. I have been here 14 years and I am still unhappy with the situation. The only argument I have seen or heard about the British system is that the plugs are so bulky. However they are infinitely safer.
I am sensitive to electricity. Twice at work, I have pointed out to the electrician that a machine is not earthed. To say the least they were upset, if not angry, that I was saying that they had not wired the plug properly. But I insisted and on examination, they found that the fault was in the machine, where the earth had not been connected properly. After that, they took my word on all things electrical!
The earth is needed. I can feel the earth leak in nearly all the electrical goods in my house. It is not immediately dangerous. all I feel is like the skin of a peach on smooth metal. However, it is a warning. If something goes wrong there may be no protection. I am a little less worried, because every house I have been in has a central RCD. I know an earth is not needed on double insulated apparatus, but the third pin is used to open the child protection on British sockets. I is needed and is often replaced by a plastic pin.
Another feature that is difficult to grasp here in France is the presence of power plugs in bathrooms. In the UK only fused 1 amp, two pin sockets are allowed in bathrooms. These take the continental two pin plugs, allowed on shavers and toothbrushes etc. This prevents things like electric fires being plugged in. (In France the bathroom is the favoured location for a washing machine thence the power sockets.)

Member

A two pin bathroom shaver socket has an isolation transformer, so in event of a fault you should not be able to electrocute yourself. That is better than an RCD, which only cuts down the risk of electrocution.

If you want to make an impression at work, take in a neon mains tester. It will glow orange when in contact with the equipment that you can feel is ‘live’.

One of the dangers of a two pin plug is that it can be reversed, so that a single pole switch in the appliance or lead can be in the neutral rather than live. It is possible to work out the ‘correct’ orientation and mark the plug, but that is hardly a satisfactory arrangement.

Member
William France says:
15 December 2012

I’m not sure that there is a neutral per say in France. The single phase we receive is from a three phase inlet into the house. Wires in the house circuit can be almost any two colours from red, black, yellow or blue. All lines are fused (two per circuit). Earths, where they exist, are green and yellow as in the UK. I am not an electrician but I like to know how things work.