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When your battery goes flat, don’t call Postman Pat

Postman Pat

In January, lithium batteries were added to the list of prohibited goods by the Royal Mail. As online sellers start using expensive couriers for delivery, could the cost of buying lithium batteries suddenly shoot up?

The Civil Aviation Authority and the Department of Transport have agreed new rules with Royal Mail to prohibit lithium batteries being sent via its postal network.

This means that lithium batteries, from the small coin cell types to the larger batteries found in your digital camera or smartphone, are no longer accepted by Royal Mail when sent in a package on their own. However, it’s still fine to send batteries in the post if they’re sent with, or contained within other equipment.

So, it’s fine to send a digital camera with a lithium battery inside it via Royal Mail, but it’s prohibited to send a battery on its own. And it’s fine to send lithium batteries by themselves as long as it’s not via Royal Mail. NiMH and other rechargeable batteries are not affected by the changes.

The price of lithium battery rules

Confused? I know I am – but these are the rules for the moment. And those who sell lithium batteries can no longer use Royal Mail, meaning they’ll have to pay extra to use courier services.

For example, one online shop I checked uses its express courier to ship orders containing lithium batteries at a cost of £5.99. So, if I wanted to buy a pack of five lithium coin cell batteries priced at £0.49, it would cost me £6.48!

Legislation is different in other countries, so if the batteries are sent from outside the UK, lithium batteries can still enter Royal Mail network. So how can Royal Mail enforce the rules? And is a little coin cell battery really that dangerous?

I wonder if the new rules might lead to a boom for high-street battery sales. But in the meantime, I just hope I don’t need a replacement battery for my camera or smartphone anytime soon.

Comments
Member

Is a little coin cell battery really that dangerous? …

Did you ever do the experiment at school where you take a small strip of magnesium, set fire to it and it burns very brightly? Now look at where Lithium is in relation to Magnesium on the Periodic Table.

Equal measure of entertainment and horror can also be experienced by typing the words “lithium battery fire”, “lithium battery explosion” or some other similar variation into the search box at YouTube.

Member

Many millions of Sony lithium laptop batteries were recalled because of cases of overheating and fires in laptop computers sold by various manufacturers. Quite apart from the presence of lithium, the batteries store a lot of energy in a small volume. If short-circuited, or charged/discharged too fast or if one thin separator keeping the electrodes apart in any cell in the battery should fail, there is there could be a fire or explosion. A colleague had an Apple laptop which was destroyed when its Sony battery overheated and swelled to more than twice its original thickness. Nokia recalled a huge number of phone batteries, and I was one of those affected.

I think the ban is justified. Perhaps small batteries could be excluded, but where do you draw the line?

According to the Royal Mail website, it is OK to send products containing lithium batteries with a capacity up to 100 Wh. A 15 inch MacBook Pro has a 95 Wh, which is close to the limit, and the battery is not removable.

Member

All this will do is make it even more difficult for UK online retailers to compete with Hong Kong based suppliers who pay a negligible amount for international postage. It is ridiculous that Hong Kong based suppliers can send lithium batteries into the Royal Mail’s system, but UK based suppliers cannot.

Member
ChrisM says:
27 May 2014

You are absolutely right – I am sure Royal Mail deliver millions of lithium batteries from China and Hong Kong every year as well as from UK sources. But lets face it these batteries are not dangerous goods – sure a few may go bang once in a while but there are billions of the batteries in use worldwide every single day so they are VERY safe to use. To exclude even small coin cell batteries (used in calculators) is a complete over reaction by Royal Mail. Royal Mail have been completely mis-informed by the CAA but worse still they have completely mis-managed the whole issue. Even after all this time they still haven’t managed to manage!

Member
Wibble says:
28 October 2015

It’s not ridiculous at all. Once the battery is in the UK, it’s on the ground and so unlikely to take a plane down with a fire!

Member
ChrisM says:
21 May 2013

Hi Everyone
I was a large seller who has been forced to stop posting ALL Lithium batteries through the Royal Mail. Like a VERY few other sellers who have abided by the new rules we have lost thousands of £££’ worth of business to those who have not been so law abiding. Both Royal Mail and the CAA have made a mockery of me doing the right thing and more so because we have a Royal Mail account where others do not, they have threatened to withdraw our account if we are caught posting these batteries and made it a criminal offence as well, so we cant afford to re-try I have pointed out many other large sellers within the UK and the many more sellers on Amazon and eBay who continue to break the law (since mid-Jan) and yet they have none nothing effective to stop them. 4+ months of my efforts have been wasted and I feel a fool in doing to right thing. Our business has only suffered at their hands and for what?
Even if all UK sellers stopped tomorrow they will NEVER EVER EVER stop the flood of Lithium batteries from overseas from countries like China, Europe, USA and Hong Kong via air. Those sellers will NEVER be threatened with legal action or loss of their Royal Mail account!!!
Oh and can anyone tell me why a battery is dangerous when sent with equipment and not alone – these new rules are so VERY stupid – 3 large rechargeable laptop batteries with a laptop are fine but not one small calculator battery on its own – Royal Mail and The CAA are failing UK consumers, businesses and even themselves by loosing thousands of profitable mailings every single day – these are/were very popular batteries for my business. These batteries are sold by the tens of thousands every single day – take a CR2032 coin cell – they are best sellers at Amazon for example and where you pay under £1 for 2 delivered you will be forced into paying as much as £3.50 for just one in the high street!
Other businesses that use Royal Mail for the final mile of delivery (DSA service) like TNT, CityLink and Secured Mail also have to abide by these new rules and they are not and nor are their Customers. When calling some of these companies they were blissfully unaware of the new rules as were their Customers – how very convenient! !??!!
Royal Mail and The CAA have and still handle this matter in a shockingly bad manner and only to the detriment of those businesses that have abided by the new rules. Over 4 Months after pointing out to both the CAA and Royal Mail they do not have any real answers in fact Royal Mail don’t even answer my emails anymore.
Just how do these people sleep at night!?!?
Thanks for listening and hope to answer some comments!?
Chris

Member

The problem of the Royal Mail handling potentially dangersous imported goods certainly needs to be looked at as a matter or urgency. I am not an expert but I think that use of appropriate packaging could make the risk of posting smaller batteries negligible.

There is no reason why batteries need to be sold online. I have six lithium coin cells (CR2032 and two other sizes) bought in Lidl for £1.99. I cannot vouch for the quality, but it illustrates that we don’t need to buy everything online. I don’t believe that Royal Mail will handle lead acid batteries, even small gel batteries that cannot leak acid.

I presume that the reasoning behind exempting certain batteries from the ban if they are in equipment is that they are better protected. Maybe – but maybe not.

If there is a genuine hazard then it is not OK to allow posting of batteries in the UK just because dangerous goods are sent from abroad.

Member
Sharon says:
15 July 2013

Hi
I have not read all of these comments but in response to one person who talks about buying batteries at Lidl – this is fine if they stock your battery type. I have a small appliance for which I cannot buy batteries locally, the only place I have managed to get them is through a specialist supplier who used royal mail.
Generally I agree with other comments. We need to understand the risk, the evidence and that all options for safety have been considered.

Member

I agree Sharon. Lidl only stocks three types of lithium coin cells and even those are not regular stock items. But if they become difficult to buy online, I expect we will see more in shops.

There are so many counterfeit electrical products on sale via the Internet that I would prefer to buy these in shops.

Member
Traxxion says:
25 September 2013

“If there is a genuine hazard then it is not OK to allow posting of batteries in the UK just because dangerous goods are sent from abroad. ”

The fact is that you don’t need to ask the question when there are literally BILLIONS of pieces of evidence all around you that these rules are complete and utter nonsense. There are millions and millions of lithium batteries in the UK alone. Do you think we might have noticed by now if there was a real threat from them?

Member
UK Seller says:
3 October 2013

Yes, I totally agree with your comment and I think we (seller) should challenge this restriction in courts, it sound very very stupid by common sense and technically, however I agree that there should be proper packaging when the batteries are transporting in bulk quantities, they should rather impose proper packaging guideline like the international express carrier did, the DHL, UPS and Fedax all transporting these batteries by Air, they only require the batteries should be labelled and packed separately, this sound a good approach to make they safer during transport.

I have been using Royal Mail for 7 years, in terms of delivery service they are good but in term of their price structure they are very unfair, and the recent dangerous goods rule is a total blunder, only an idiot can make such a nonsense decision.

Member
ChrisM says:
22 May 2013

HI Wavechange
I know that Royal Mail will not handle large heavy wet type lead acid type batteries as there is a danger of acid spillage – fair enough. The batteries I refer to mainly are small coin cell Lithium batteries like CR2025 and CR2032 which are typically found in calculators and memory back up etc. These are pretty much inert compared to say a large rechargeable laptop battery. I am not sure that there has ever been a case of a danger/problem with these smaller batteries and especially for domestic/mainland mailings. Royal Mail seem to have applied a rule which doesn’t seem right. Sure if these were posted in very large amounts and overseas (air-freight) then I could understand the need to label and restrict volumes but small Consumer orders are really not an issue.
Also unfair is that Royal Mail have banned their account holders from posting but not allow when a stamp is placed on the packet. Also that the exact same battery in the exact same box is fine when sent with say a calculator but not alone. I mean are they “Dangerous Goods” or not and what makes them safer when packed with equipment!?
After 4+ months of contacting both Royal Mail and the CAA I have no real reasoning behind what they are doing and only that my business which used to sell thousands of these batteries a day is now forced to stop selling whilst others are allowed to continue as normal?
If they make a rule and would close my valued account and make me a criminal in the process, then its up to them to be fair and proper in Policing the new legislation!
I think Customers should have every right to buy these batteries online if they choose as typically they will save a few pounds with every battery – some shops are typically £3+ per battery – online sellers less than £1 per battery. And not everyone has a shop around the corner who can sell at a reasonable price and not everyone wants to have to get in their car and get stuck in traffic, park and then to only buy such a small item. How does a shop get hold of these products if they are truly “Dangerous Goods”!?

BTW Lithium batteries are also used for digital cameras, phone torches, radios, mini speakers, remote controls, batteries, laptop etc. – try getting these at reasonable prices in a supermarket near you and at a reasonable price. The irony is that you will find them on say eBay in a few seconds and save yourself a veritable fortune. The overseas sellers will mail via air freight and use Royal Mail for delivery – why allow overseas/European/USA sellers not me and others in the UK where no aircraft may be involved?

Member

I presume that the reason for the exemption of batteries (up to a certain capacity from the ban) is that they are likely to have some protection from crushing and short-circuiting when in equipment.

I have my doubts about whether coin cells are a significant hazard when posted, but neither you have specialist knowledge.

I suspect that many of the batteries sold online are substandard products. I would rather pay more for a product that I can be sure will be reliable and have a long life.

There are companies that specialise in supplying dangerous goods and they engage contractors. It is perfectly possible to manufacture, transport and use dangerous items in a safe way.

Member
ChrisM says:
23 May 2013

Lithium batteries are everyday items used by probably every single person in the UK in some way shape or form and unfortunately some people can afford to “pay more”.
The problem is that “all Lithium batteries” are now banned by Royal Mail and there are no exceptions for weights and order sizes etc. I could understand better if there were limits perhaps but I cannot understand why its OK to send 3 large laptop batteries with a laptop and not one battery on its own. I mean how can a small lithium coin cell (calculator type) be branded as Dangerous in the same breath!?
BTW Some of the most popular batteries are Panasonic, Duracell, Maxell etc. – they come from the same factories as many other non-branded versions (China normally). We have sold hundreds of thousands over the years with no issues at all. I know millions of these batteries are used and posted every year and its a fact that it still goes on today regardless of Royal Mails law change.
My issue is the way that Royal Mail and The CAA have forced only some businesses to stop sending yet will still allow many hundreds of others to continue as normal – its soul destroying for us and especially when others are allowed to carry on right under our noses even after making Royal Mail aware of those sellers. They know of these businesses but have not done a single thing about stopping them despite making it illegal to do so.
If they are serious about Dangerous Goods and turning people into criminals then they have a duty to act responsibly – they are playing with peoples businesses and lives after all !!!

Member
ChrisM says:
23 May 2013

Ooops Sorry I meant some people “cannot” afford to pay more!

Member

Chris

Which? has raised this issue, so it’s up for discussion. In view of your business interest, I suggest that you pass on your comments to Royal Mail. It would be good to have a reasoned explanation why lithium coin cells are included in the ban.

Personal customers are not allowed to send phones or cameras via Royal Mail. I quote from the RM website:

Batteries that are classed as dangerous goods by the latest edition of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Technical Instructions are prohibited. This includes lithium ion/polymer/metal/alloy batteries sent in isolation, with or contained in electronic equipment such as mobile phones or digital cameras.

Member
ChrisM says:
23 May 2013

Thanking you wavechange. Just to let you know that since 16th Jan 2013 I have been in constant communication with Royal Mail and also at times the CAA. I have even had sent to them samples directly from the unlawful suppliers. Despite considerable time on my part I haven’t had proper answers from The Dangerous Goods Team at Royal Mail nor Jacky Akass who is in charge of Royal Mail. Some months ago Royal Mail signed off to me by by saying that they will not communicate further with me on this matter – which was a not-so-nice shove in the face I felt!!
Since that time I have continued to point out to both Royal Mail and The CAA the ongoing problem and conflict in rules and the many hundreds of sellers in the UK, Europe and Overseas and I have neither heard anything more from them or seen any effective action in stopping the posting of these “Dangerous Goods”. Even those companies with Royal Mail accounts are still being allowed to continue as normal – it is most unfair and when you see the volumes of batteries posted through Royal Mail every day you could understand their reluctance to do anything “real” at all. But even the CAA don’t seem to be effective in asking Royal Mail to get their act together – should we now not trust the CAA in being an effective organisation!?
Our business has been forced to stop posting these batteries which is really the only cost effective method of delivery for small orders – it is a real wrench for us and a few other businesses where they had confirmed a loss of 30% of their business because they also believed they were staying within the law.
We did the right thing and we have been punished – even the Police haven’t taken an interest in this matter – if it had been a few “funny” tablets they would have been all over it like a rash!
Sad world really…

Member

I am sorry to hear this, Chris. Royal Mail is regulated by Ofcom and I wonder if you have been in contact with them.

Member
Traxxion says:
25 September 2013

“I presume that the reason for the exemption of batteries (up to a certain capacity from the ban) is that they are likely to have some protection from crushing and short-circuiting when in equipment.”

Nope… many laptop mount the battery to the rear of the laptop and are typically 4,6 or 8 cells. It is also more than likely that the battery for a laptop if seperated will be bouncing around next to the psu.

“I have my doubts about whether coin cells are a significant hazard when posted, but neither you have specialist knowledge.”

I’ve seen enough of them battered by hammers to know that it would take one hell of a postal accident to turn a 3.3v battery into a hazard.

“I suspect that many of the batteries sold online are substandard products. I would rather pay more for a product that I can be sure will be reliable and have a long life.”

Not relevant to mailing rules that you are willing to pay more, but the term “substandard” is pretty subjective. I mean, if it does the job, it is not really “substandard” is it?

“There are companies that specialise in supplying dangerous goods and they engage contractors. It is perfectly possible to manufacture, transport and use dangerous items in a safe way. ”

Exactly – we’ve been doing it for decades.

Member
ChrisM says:
23 May 2013

Yes I have contacted POSTRS through the OFCOM site and been told that because we are buying a contracted service that they cannot represent us (as we have an account with Royal Mail I assume). I have also contacted the OFT and been told they are not interested and same for BBC Watchdog who said that is wasn’t a “Consumer” issue.
You’ll understand my frustration when these batteries are labelled as “Dangerous Goods” by the CAA and yet if I choose to lick a stamp they are suddenly not?
It is actually an act of discrimination against Royal Mail account holders only. As said if I was in anywhere else in the World then I’d be allowed to use them and without fear of a criminal conviction!

Member

Maybe the ban on the public sending phones and cameras containing lithium batteries (when companies are allowed to do this) might be a good way of generating public interest in this issue.

Member
RichardG says:
23 May 2013

It sounds to me as this is the unfortunate side effect of the fires aboard the new Boeing Dreamliner.
Aircraft batteries are massive, and are supplying a huge current, whereas lithium coin batteries are tiny and not connected to a load whilst in their original packaging.

I suspect the Royal Mail has introduced this ban on lithium batteries, because they transport some packages by air on internal flights. I suspect that Goods that enter the UK from overseas do not become the legal responsibility of Royal Mail until they have landed in the UK. However I also suspect that this blanket ban all originated at the behest of the CIvil Aviation authority.

Both The Royal Mail and CAA are public bodies, and should be asked under the Freedom of
Information Act to supply data of the number of fires and or explosions that have occurred relating to small lithium batteries. In the case of the CAA those occurring on aircraft due to the carriage of small lithium batteries, and in the case of the Royal Mail those events occurring on their premises, in their vehicles, or post men’s bags.

Member
ROGER LAKE KAGAN DGSA BADGP says:
23 May 2013

As a member of the British Assoc of dangerous Goods professionals and a qualified Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser since 2000 when such were registered as a legal entity, might I be allowed to comment on the article about Royal mail and Lithium batteries.

First the facts. Lithium Batteries of no matter what size may spontaneously burst into flames without any reason and have been exercising the manufacturers , and users brains from their invention. They are a superb source of energy, but are highly suspect in fires and actual loss of planes, about which the “Dreamliner” Boeing fix is but the latest . Just because these are very large UN3090 or UN 3480 listed batteries (The UN number designating their reference in the UN Orange book and from whence data on their danger and need to provide appropriate packing marking and labelling comes.The Lithium Metal Battery UN 3090 and the Lithium Ion Battery UN3480 are constantly under revision and my colleagues and I are appointed to many such manufacturers and traders to ensure that passenger safety in the air and on the road and at sea is not compromised.

Having said that we have (my colleagues and I ) made representation to the competent authorities over several years about the dangers in the Royal mail, as “fires” in post office sorting depots, are not detailed in the public domain unless someone is hurt or is killed. It is a fact that had the DfT not changed the internal rules on 1.1.2013 to allow the movement by post of some Dangerous Goods , the mail order client of Royal Mail(and others who might use aircraft in UK only distribution), would not be able to avail themselves of their services as patently the ICAO ( UN and world) and IATA (airlines) regulations do not permit movement by certain size Li batteries and these details are in those references. I should be noted that Royal Mail has produced a booklet and anyone availing themselves of any allowance for mail in the UK should also note that as well as complying with the detail for consignment you must be trained so to do.

Items which have the battery “contained” or”packed with” are expected to be correctly packed where allowable. Where such is not allowable, it is an to offer for transport or offence to not to declare. In other words Royal mail wishing to be sold off had to have some extra revenue for the sale to bring it to profitability. One can take a view on that, but that is the nub of the argument otherwise it would be impossible to send Lith batteries( equipment containing or equipment with) in the post in the UK.

Lithium batteries of each type have a Limited Quantity of 0. Thus anyone sending these even by road must abide by CDGTPR 2011 and ADR 2013, and unless derogated by their size or watt hours appoint a Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser… but then as an old Which /Consumer Association I would expect members to know that…. or do they?

My colleagues and I have a great dreal of business so this is NOT a sales pitch… more a warning to ensure if you want to follow Royal Mails UK ONLY postal route check carefully and understand you are virtually doing the paperwork for an air consignment anyway! As DGSA’s we are NOT responsible for any Royal mail movements

Member
ChrisM says:
24 May 2013

Its still hard for me to actually make any sense of the situation I find myself in and I would suggest that it makes no sense to most people either. If posting Lithium batteries is indeed “Dangerous” as Royal Mail and the CAA suggest, then why are tens of thousands of these batteries moving up and down the country every single day. Even though I can easily identify thousands of listings on eBay, amazon and elsewhere easily and in a few seconds they haven’t actually stopped any of them continuing to post these batteries. I mean if they are Dangerous Goods then why no real action or even prosecutions so far. Remember these new laws were introduced over 4 months ago and have substantially affected my business, why no action and support from Royal Mail.
It is now also illegal but how serious can they be taking this matter when they do nothing effective to stop it – they make rules and laws and then ignore them – why do they bother to interfere?
I can of course understand large rechargeable Lithium batteries being of some danger and I can understand that large trade orders of these batteries may cause a hazard but to ban them outright within the UK even in the smallest amounts is a complete over-reaction! Worse still is that they allow you to post the very same batteries if they are accompanied with the equipment. So a keyring torch is fine with its batteries fitted AND 2 spares but you’d be a criminal if the batteries were sent on their own – can anyone explain this please?

Member
Traxxion says:
25 September 2013

“First the facts. Lithium Batteries of no matter what size may spontaneously burst into flames without any reason and have been exercising the manufacturers , and users brains from their invention.”

Really? Show of hands people – who has a phone, laptop, ipod, tablet or any other device that has just, you know BURST into flames? Would you keep such a dangerous item, indeed TENs of them littered around your house? If they are so dangerous, why do house insurers permit these menaces in their clients homes? Why do we not see government campaigns and fire fighter sponsered events highlighting such ever present danger lurking under every teenangers pillowcase or on any bedside table?

What nonsense! There have a very few reported cases worldwide of lithium battery manufacturiing problems (e.g. Sony), but the laptops did not ‘spontaneously’ burst into flames, they were in use or being charged at the time. You know that you are actually allowed to CHARGE your mobile phone or laptop while onboard an aeroplane, so the assertion becomes even more baffling. This doesn’t hold up to any form of logical scrutiny!

“as “fires” in post office sorting depots, are not detailed in the public domain unless someone is hurt or is killed.”

So a figure should be floating around then – death by lithium battery – how many?

Member
ChrisM says:
23 May 2013

I think that the public interest will only be activated when they cannot buy Lithium batteries online anymore and will then be forced to pay much higher prices in the shops. But for now there’s absolutely no panic as these batteries are still available everywhere including from my VERY happy and unlawful competitors. Why should they change after all, they must be enjoying growing business!

Even if Royal Mail stopped all UK sellers tomorrow they would never be able to monitor, enforce or police the many more thousands of these batteries that arrive from overseas every single day…

Member
oldmarty says:
24 May 2013

As far as I can see, nobody is making the distinction between the rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries and the non-rechargeable ones that are sold in AA and AAA packs.

The Lithium-ion batteries are generally rather large, used in laptop computers as well as in hundreds of other commercial applications, and some small ones are made to be used in cameras. These have been known to malfunction very occasionally and cause fires.

As far as I know the non-rechargeable AA and AAA batteries, as well as some button cells, pose no dangers greater than any other disposable or NiMH batteries. The RM regulations (see http://www.royalmail.com/personal/help-and-support/Tell-me-about-Restricted-Goods-overseas) are rather unclear, and seem to allow small Li batteries with less than 1 g Li, or packs of 4 in original manufacturers’ retail bubble packs.

It is essential to distinguish between the rechargeable Li-ion and the disposable AA and AAA types. Maybe Royal Mail could be persuaded to clarify this.

Member
Ken says:
24 May 2013

I ordered some lithium-ion batteries in March and they were delivered by Royal Mail, but they did originate from China. Because the Customs check each postal packet that comes from abroad, perhaps only by X-rays, are they obliged to inform Royal Mail of the contents? I would think not, as most government departments are loathe to share information.

Member
ChrisM says:
24 May 2013

There are millions (and millions!) of packets coming in from all over the world into the UK being delivered happily by Royal Mail today. One only has to search “Lithium” on eBay to see thousands of listings from overseas alone. Do not imagine that either HM Customs or Royal Mail can deal with all the goods coming in, let alone talk to each other. As Royal Mail cant even deal with the UK postings of Lithium batteries they haven’t got a hope in hells chance of dealing with the possibly larger flood coming in from China, Hong Kong, USA and Europe and via aircraft too. The CAA seem to care not either about these “Dangerous Goods”, they haven’t bothered Royal Mail enough to take seriously these new rules.
Why make rules that they cannot honour or wont police fairly yet they would happily close my postal account and turn me into a criminal if I posted the very same items. I cannot afford to loose my postal account – do you think China Post is in charge or Royal Mail given the massive influx of mail into the UK !?

Member
oldmarty says:
25 May 2013

This whole issue is being actively discussed on the Pentax camera users’ forum: http://www.pentaxuser.co.uk/forum/topic/royal-mail-ban-on-lithium-batteries—39526/p-0

The consensus developing is that the Royal Mail is responding, perhaps over-reacting, to airline regulations from ICAO, IATA and FAA that have imposed a total prohibition on any type of lithium battery going into the cargo hold of passenger aircraft. At least one member of the forum is professionally expert in this field. Cargo aircraft, however, appear to be covered by different regulations that may or may not restrict Royal Mail from sending these batteries as air cargo.

Whether the regulations are enforceable or not in personal cases will not absolve RM from setting matching rules, however illogical they might be.