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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

DerekP, I’m sure you qualify as a responsible regular so if you ask you should be added to the list of “trusties”. However, it seems to me that a shortened link that is “exempt” from moderation can be easily opened and the damage will be done if it is a bad site.

Shewaye says:
25 June 2019

I just revived the hair straightener I ordered and it and it has 2 plugs.
The company name is Current body.

Chris L says:
15 September 2019

I have just received a monitor sold by Amazon (not a 3rd party seller) which does not have a 3 pin plug…

Kim Hayes says:
24 November 2019

I’ve just been sent a display cabinet from an eBay seller which only has a two pin fitted plug

Kim Hayes says:
24 November 2019

I recently received a display cabinet from an eBay seller with only a fitted two pin plug

That is an illegal sale. You can reject the cabinet as not fit for purpose either for a compliant replacement or for a full refund. If you are competent, or have access to someone who is, you could replace the plug with a standard UK 13 A plug.

The question of earthing needs to be checked. I consider it unlikely that the cabinet is double insulated so it is advisable to make sure it is earthed; the plug that is fitted might have earth contacts on the edge for fitting continental sockets but you will not be able to tell if there are two or three cores in the cable until the plug is dismantled.

My personal view is that you should reject the product and make the seller pay for its return. I think you should also report it to e-Bay.

I suggest you ask for a refund because the product does not comply with the Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994, and also report the seller to eBay, as John has suggested.

Kim Hayes says:
25 November 2019

Thank you

Ive just had a side cabinet with 3 small LED lights attached from Wayfair. The plug is a 2 pin.
I have bought a 3 pin british plug adaptor. Would this work? Or is it still dangerous

It will probably work, and the current will be very low. Make sure it has a low fuse [3 Amp]. If the pins on the two-pin plug fit tightly in the adaptor that is a good sign but if they are slack there is a risk of an electrical fault.

One concern is earthing. The two-pin plug might actually have an earth conductor that will not engage with an earth terminal in the adaptor.

My recommendation would be to cut off the two-pin plug and fit a new three-pin 13 Amp plug.

An alternative is to buy a converter plug which will fully enclose the two-pin plug but these are bulky and might not be suitable for your set-up.

So far as I am aware, no plug or socket adaptor on sale in the UK is approved for use on the UK electrical system but it is not illegal to sell them or to use them.

I hope you will report this to Wayfair because it is illegal to sell products into the UK market with non-compliant plugs, and two-pin plugs are not compliant as they lack some of the essential safety features of the standard UK three-pin type [plus, they don’t fit in our sockets so require some form of adaptation which could also compromise their safety].

Lillian Rosser says:
29 January 2020

I have just bought a pyrography machine from Amazon although it has a 3 pin plug it is not fused and is a lot smaller than a Uk plug I have read they are a fire risk the problem is I really want the item can i cut that chinese plug off and put a uk plug on would it then be safe?

I guess that this will be from an Amazon trader than Amazon itself, Lillian. If the trader is not capable of complying with the UK regulations then I would not be confident about electrical safety, especially since Which? has found dangerous electrical goods on sale by Amazon and other marketplaces. With Chinese products it’s unlikely that the wiring colours will be different from the familiar brown, blue and green/yellow and if it was intended for use in the US/Canada, the voltage could be 110 rather than 230V. I suggest you seek a refund and explain the reason.

Lillian, I would not use a dodgy electrical appliance such as this sounds. Looking at the low cost of the kits offered on the Amazon site you have to question the quality when compared to one from, say, Axminster Tools. Nor can I see any mention of the basis on which these are being sold on Amazon. Is it through a marketplace trader where Amazon appear to take no responsibility for the safety of the products? It is time that responsibility was placed at Amazon’s door and at least, in the meantime, they were told to make a statement against any marketplace product that they took no responsibility for its safety.

These days, a lot of good quality electrical equipment is made in China.

But not all of it is CE marked, as is required for domestic appliances in the UK.

I recently wanted to buy a reputable make of mains power supply, with two separate DC outputs, at -6V and +6V respectively.

I did find a nice one that was available via a proper UK distributor/retailer, but the units they sell are not CE marked, so they will only sell them to UK industrial users and not to domestic users.

In a lot of cases, I think such equipment is made to satisfy USA regulations but not EU ones.

For Lillian’s specific case:

Very often, foreign 3-pin plugs are not fused. For example the type SP-022 Dell PC 16A 250V power lead I have here is a standard European design and those plugs aren’t fused. We British like to have higher standards and so expect to have fuses in our 3-pin plugs. In the past I have fitted UK 3-pin plugs to EU pattern leads, so I can safely use them.

If I were content that the pyrography machine in question was a reputable brand, then I would just fit a UK plug and use it.

I’d suggest a reputable brand would not have fitted a non-compliant UK plug.

The pyrography tool might well be perfectly good, but this does not inspire confidence in what other non-compliant features it might be hiding.

Derek – If there is no fuse in the plug, the only protection will be the 32 amp circuit breaker (or 30 amp fuse) in the consumer unit. (This assumes that the product is plugged into a wall socket rather than an extension lead.) It will work but in the event of a fault there is a strong chance of a fire.

It is not that we expect higher standards (in plugs), it is a legal requirement under the Plugs and Sockets etc (Safety) Regulations 1994:

” Prohibitions on supply etc. of appliances
12.—(1) Subject to the following provisions of this regulation, 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 which–

(a)complies with the requirements of regulation 8 above; and
(b)is fitted with a fuse link which conforms to BS 1362 and is rated in accordance with the appliance manufacturer’s instructions, provided that in the absence of such instructions the fuse link may be rated in accordance with Table 2 of BS 1363.

Whilst 13A fuses and 32 amp breakers might protect against overloads and electrical fires, I wouldn’t primarily worry about those issues for any tool that was being used only as craft item (and thus not not ever need to be unattended), in some sort of home craft work shop or workspace.

As pyrography seems to be a form of “hot work”, I would expect prudent fire precautions no matter what.

Instead, given the need to handle and manipulate such equipment, rather like a soldering iron, I’d be much more concerned about possible electrocution risks and I’d want to be really sure that any mains circuit included an RCD (i.e. an earth leakage breaker). My relatively modern consumer unit has two separate 0.03A RCD’s but older households might not have such protection installed at all.

A pyrography tool or soldering iron would normally be used with a 3 amp fuse in the plug. I recall when Antex used to a one amp fuse with each soldering iron because this provides greater protection. In European countries that use unfused plugs, sockets are protected with a 16 amp fuse at the consumer unit. I prefer our system.

Either proper earthing or double insulation protects against electrocution but the introduction of RCDs has increased safety, especially for garden and power tools where cables can easily be damaged or get wet.

Here is a photo of a pyrography tool that has been removed from sale on the Amazon UK website:

This looks as if it is fitted with a French plug.

In the past couple of years I have seen quite a number of electrical products with non-UK plugs and extension leads with non-UK sockets that have subsequently been removed from sale. I used to be able to find dodgy products quickly but now it takes much longer. I believe that Amazon is making an effort to remove them from sale and to encourage their marketplace traders to include a photo of the type of plug supplied. That’s a worthwhile step forward.

Unfortunately, a visual inspection will probably not distinguish between a dangerous counterfeit iPhone chargers and a safe one made by Apple or other well known companies that behave responsibly.

If any of the online marketplace companies is going to tackle the problem of dangerous products, Amazon seems best placed to do so. It would be great if Which? would raise this with Amazon and push for action.

David R Howard says:
12 February 2020

Just purchased a guitar practice amp from Amazon with a two pin plug. I feel that it is dubious practice by Amazon that they are sending out illegal products. I cannot believe they are unaware of the UK Regulations

Please return the product, David, and say that it does not comply with the Plugs and Sockets etc (Safety) Regulations (1994). It would be interesting to know whether this was sold by an Amazon Marketplace trader. Apparently Amazon and other companies that run marketplaces are not legally responsible for ensuring that products are safe. This has to change and some of us are looking for Which? to push for legal action to make this happen.

It is essential that electrical goods used in the UK are fitted with a fused plug and unless they are Class II double-insulated appliances with a two-core flexible cable are earthed. Some ‘two-pin’ plugs such as the German Schuko type. have side Earth contacts and if plugged into an adaptor without contacts the product will work but will be unsafe. Some musicians have been killed by using unearthed amplifiers.

To clarify, that should read: “It is essential that electrical goods used in the UK are fitted with a fused plug and unless they are Class II double-insulated appliances with a two-core flexible cable THEY MUST BE earthed.”

Hi there, there is an Electrolux vacuum cleaner being sold on a UK website http://www.coolshop.co.uk quoted as having an ‘EU powerplug’. I assume that is fine since they are stating it up front on their website and I guess I can simply change to a 3 point British plug? It’s an excellent product not yet widely available on the UK market.

I’ve just received a new monitor from Amazon, and it came with a white cable and block that goes into the monitor, which has two round pins, and a black 3 pin plug which has no means of attaching to the white sealed unit. It looks like the only way I’ll be able to plug the monitor in is to use an adaptor. Not ideal when I’d like something to work ‘out the box’. It was sold by a secondary UK-based company. What can I do?

I suggest you send it back for a refund, as it clearly does not comply with the relevant UK legislation.

E Hunt says:
19 April 2020

My cleaner came with only a car cigarette plug fastened to machine and it is supposed to be cordless, so cannot charge it up.

E Hunt – Have you rejected it as not fit for purpose and, as Derek says above, it does not comply with the relevant UK legislation. Would you like to tell us the name of the manufacturer and seller so that further investigations can take place?

I presume that the cleaner is a handheld model intended to be charged by plugging it into a car power socket, but these are usually active only when the engine is turned on. There are adapters that can be used to charge 12V devices from the mains, and a couple of years ago I would have recommended Maplin, which has now closed.

If this cleaner was purchased online it can be returned for a refund if it has not been used.

Myfanwy Ellard says:
23 May 2020

Have just bought a Singer sewing machine from coolshop.co.uk. They are based in Scandinavia and that machine is obviously made for their market. Consequently it has come with a 2 pin plug. I am returning it as it is unfit for purpose and possibly illegal.

This is obviously a UK website. You could mention that the company is breaking these regulations: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1994/1768/contents/made

You should not be expected to pay for return carriage.

A F Wylie says:
17 June 2020

The expensive Stihl battery charger which I bought on amazon.co.uk came within a two-pin plug. I returned it as unfit for purpose – but Amazon and the seller (in Italy) have so far refused to pay the return postage costs claiming “it was my mistake”. I have responded saying “The item sent was unfit for purpose. The manufacturers Stihl agree with me. It is also, I believe, illegal for Amazon.co.uk to sell items like this with two-pin plugs. See the Plugs and Sockets Safety Regulations 1994. See also “Which” magazine’s coverage of this issue. It is your responsibility, (Amazon and Verde +) to make good my losses. To suggest it is my mistake is an outrage. “.
Is there anything more that I, or Which magazine, can do to stop such practices? I have lost £47.76. Dreadful treatment of a loyal Amazon customer.

If this was sold by Amazon themselves then this is illegal and they should be prosecuted to stop this continuing practice. If it was bought through a continental amazon site then you are responsible. If it came through amazon’s UK “Marketplace” then it seems, even though they facilitate the sale by promoting, taking payment, delivering the illegal (and in many cases fake, unsafe, dangerous) products and profiting from the sale, as I understand it, they take no responsibility and the law appears to be deficient in preventing this.

We are told Amazon have superb customer service so perhaps you caught them on an off day? Or maybe not 🙁 When they supply a defective product they should refund all your payments, including return postage, or collect the item. Unless you were at fault.

A F Wylie – Thanks for taking this up with Stihl.

At present Amazon and other online marketplaces have no legal responsibility for ensuring that their traders are selling safe products. Which? have provided examples of dangerous and counterfeit.

If Amazon etc. are hosting dangerous products on their sites then it’s hardly surprising that they are also ignoring the regulations you have mentioned.

@gmartin – George – There is no sign that the Office of Product Safety and Standards is going to take action, so Which? seems our only hope. Buying a product with the wrong plug is not just a matter of inconvenience but depending on how the user deals with the problem there could be a risk of electrocution or fire.

We have repeatedly asked Which? to explain what the UK and the EU are doing to regulate marketplaces, and what Which? are actively doing to prevent these platforms distributing illegal, fake and dangerous products. Perhaps they will tell us one day?

Amazon themselves could deal with this if they were a responsible organisation.

I have had the same problem with an LG monitor supplied with a 2-pin plug – now 2 monitors bought from and supplied by Amazon and sent from Italy.

Their initial customer service was good if not over-the-top as they immediately ordered another monitor although I only asked them to supply the correct plug.

But we still have a monitor to return they are taking no responsibility for the impossible situation and they have put us in and refuse to help us get the thing returned. They refuse to pick it up in one of their vans that often pass our house. They refuse to send us the printed labels as our printer is broken. I have already purchased an over-priced wide tape to seal the box but why should I be forced to buy a printer I don’t want when all the best electronic items are out of stock and anyway, it is one of those products I would hope lasts many years so I want to examine the quality of the machine before I buy.

Full story:
https://conversation.which.co.uk/shopping/online-shopping-customer-service-experience/#comment-1598625

I wonder how quickly they would arrange retrieval if they could be charged storage?

Ester Aldred says:
19 June 2020

My tablet arrived with a 2 pin European charging plug, is it ok to use a standard UK 3 pin charging plug with it or have I been sent the wrong model?

Hi Ester, if your tablet’s charger won’t plug into a standard British 13A 3-pin socket, then you have been sent the wrong model.

So you should contact the retailer who supplied it and get them to change it.

If your tablet takes a standard Lightning or USB type charger, then you might get away with using one from a different tablet or phone. However, to avoid invalidating any warranty on your tablet, you should really only use it with chargers supplied by its manufacturer (i.e. after getting one that can be legally sold in the UK).

Margaret Carey says:
22 June 2020

Hi I also have purchased a Singer Sewing machine from Coolshop with two pin plug. I have asked company to supply plug converter but have not had a reply yet. My problem now is will it be safe with a plug converter I can only find 3 amp ones. Thank you.