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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.”

Thomas says:
23 September 2020

It is now 2020 and the same problem still exists with Amazon. I ordered a coffee grinder and it came with a European plug. I tried calling the supplier but all I ever get is a message saying “The system is busy. Please try again later.” I’ve tried calling on-line chat with Amazon but I seem to be constantly chatting to a “bot”. The “bot” says “Sorry to hear there was a problem with this. Give me a minute to check on this” That’s as far as I ever get as I never hear from the “bot” again.

Hi Thomas – I suggest you send back the coffee grinder and get a full refund including postage. If you bought the product from the Amazon UK website it would be worth mentioning that the product does not comply with The Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994.

Please could you say if the product was sold by Amazon or one of the Marketplace traders.

Thomas, if this was bought from Amazon – not their market place which can flout all the rules – then it should be reported to Trading Standards (good luck with that) as they are acting illegally.

@jon-stricklin-coutinho, Jon, Which? will by now have a lot of examples of where Amazon have been involved in the supply of illegal 2-pin plugs from reports over the years on Convos. They can find out from the commenters whether they were bought directly through Amazon as opposed to their market place. Amazon are then responsible for selling an illegal product. Are Which? going to take any action to try to have Amazon prosecuted so this activity can, hopefully, be stopped?

Nofridge says:
30 September 2020

It’s not just Amazon. I got a Hotpoint fridge from Curry’s online and it came with a 2 pin EU plug. They’d already took my old fridge and left by the time I realised. It’s been a palava to sort out an exchange. They even suggested if I just want an adaptor sending out. No thanks Currys, it’s UK and I expect a UK compliant connection for my appliance.

Thanks for letting us know. Please report this to Trading Standards.

Helen says:
23 October 2020

I have just bought an inflatable hot tub with an EU 2 pin plug. Can you please advise if this is legal?

Hi Helen,

As stated in the above heading article:

“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.”

Further to what Derek has said, a converter plug must already be fitted (it encases the plug) and not supplied loose to comply with the regulations. There are reasons for this.

Helen, from whom did you buy the hot tub?

Intrigued by this, running off a power lead to a domestic socket, I wondered what the energy requirement was for a tub that only took a short while to be ready for use – but it was never quoted. Reviews estimated £7- £10 a week depending on use but then I noticed that it takes a good 24 hours to be ready to hop in. Setting it up is quick – around ten minutes to assemble and inflate; it then takes around an hour to fill with water [depending on capacity], and the rest of the time is spent waiting for the water to reach 40 degrees Celsius. The power supply has to provide the heating, the pump [for the spa experience] and any lighting in the hot tub, which is why a maximum 13 Amp supply will take so long to bring it up to working temperature from cold. Covering the tub and keeping it warm will reduce the time required for a daily dip. There are other expenses like water treatment chemicals, cocktails, and masseurs [optional]. My research did not include a user experience so I cannot vouch for its enjoyment or therapeutic potential.

Rob Wheaton says:
28 October 2020

Recently bought a Siemens dishwasher from John Lewis and it came with a European 2 pin plug. Contacted them and they told me to contact Siemens! No very impressed.

I suggest you contact JL in writing and say that as a retailer it is their responsibility to provide a product that meets the requirements of the current regulations. Manufacturers have no responsibility for sorting out problems except in the case of recalls.

Please let us know how you get on, Rob.

Rob – That is bad. Have you written to John Lewis to point out their error and ask for the incorrect power lead to be replaced? They are committing an offence.

Liviu says:
4 November 2020

I still don’t get what the problem is. European or british, they both got earth and which way you plug the line/neutral doesn’t matter. Unless your device has a fuse inside (like the uk plugs) then the fuse should go in the line

But from a UK perspective, our houses have ring mains not fused lines and European schuko plugs will fit into cheap British visitor adapters but that won’t give any earth connection. So you might have no earth and no fuse.

Liviu – UK BS 1363 plugs/sockets are polarised, which means that a single-pole switch in the appliance is always in the Live (Line) conductor, which is important for safety. A Schuko plug is not polarised, so that there is a 50% chance that the switch could be in the Neutral conductor.

Derek has mentioned the problem of adapters without an Earth connection and lack of a fuse. Without a fuse, the circuit will only be protected by a 32A circuit breaker or 30A fuse and in the case of appliances that use an Earth for safety, there is a risk of electrocution.

These are among the reasons why products sold for use in the UK should be fitted with the correct plug.

Wayfair have sold my parents a floor lamp, fitted with a 2 pin plug. Called “Ocho 13cm Floor Lamp” Very poorly constructed too, has a threaded rod that spins on assembly, which could easily pull the wires out of the screw connector.

Hi George – If your parents bought the lamp via Wayfair’s UK website it must comply with The Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994, so supplying it with a two pin plug is not legal. The flexible cable should be gripped securely to prevent wires pulling out of connections.

I suggest you contact Citizens Advice so that this can be reported to Trading Standards.

This lamp looks spindly and seems to be manufactured by Bulb Attack in Spain. ” The Bulb Attack custom lighting concept has been developed by a group of creative people who believe in the power of simple and functional design. The Bulb Attack aim is to manufacture beautiful, hand-decorated and hand-assembled products capable of enhancing both modern and vintage interiors. Bulb Attack carefully select suppliers to make sure that fittings are safe and made from top-quality components of European origin.”. That probably explains the European plug that Wayfair should have not supplied.

Citizen’s Advice should pass it on to Trading Standards but they are unlikely to take action unless there are many complaints. You could send an email to the Office for Product Safety and Standards I would complain to Wayfair about the quality (it was not cheap) and point out they are breaking the law by failing to meet the Plug and socket regulations. I would also complain to Bulb Attack. Nothing lost by a couple of emails.

This illustrates the danger of buying unseen products online; had this been seen in a shop the quality would have been apparent. Just send this back would be my advice. It breaks the law and fails the requirements of the Consumer Rights Act by the sound of it.

I agree; I suggest your parents send it back while they can get a full refund.

It’s also not as described: “Overall height 13 cm”. Looking at the image I would suggest 130 cm is more likely.

This is an odd one, to be sure. From the Wayfair site::

“Overall Dimensions 13cm H x 31cm W x 31cm D
Shade 13cm H x 50cm W x 50cm D
Base 1cm H x 31cm W x 31cm D”

You certainly need to demand a full refund.

Errors on websites are quite common. For example the Which? website has for the past year shown the dimensions of my compact camera as:
Width 57 cm
Height 95 cm
Depth 24 cm

It’s important that potentially unsafe goods are reported and not just returned. I’ve seen online reviews that have identified dangerous electrical and given details of the problem but they have been given five star reviews and remained on sale. Many people do not spot the risks. I have only once seen mention of the Plugs & Sockets regulations in reviews of goods with the wrong plug.

Wow, that’s a big camera 🙂

Maybe it’s a Tardis camera.

I’ve just taken delivery of an electrical beauty product from Amazon that came with a 2-pin plug. I’m really cross about it but don’t want to send the item back because I can’t find it for sale anywhere else. I just want to be able to use it safely. Will it be safe if i plug it into an adaptor? I had never used Amazon before the lockdown and this has really put me off shopping in this way.

Hi PatChatte,

It is illegal for Amazon to sell products with a 2-pin plug and they will try and sort it out for you if you contact them although it might not be the solution you want. When products are unavailable in the UK, they get them sent from elsewhere in Europe without checking the electrics which is what the did to me when the only monitors available were in Italy with 2-pin plugs and I ended up with 2 Italian monitors.

Is the lead part of the beauty product or a separate lead that is plugged in? If the lead is separate, you could try talking to the manufacturer and asking them for a UK plug which is what I did.

Again, if the lead is separate, Amazon might tell you to buy one from their website and they will reimburse you as they suggested to me. I declined as that could invalidate the warranty to use the wrong lead with the product.

It also depends upon whether it was sold by Amazon or came through one of their market place traders. In the latter case, at the moment, Amazon have no legal responsibility.

PatChatte, do you know whether this was from Amazon direct and do you recognise whether a product comes through their market place with no Amazon responsibility? It would be interesting if Which? ran a survey to see how many knew the difference, and the implications. I might be on my own…..

Hi PatChatte – If you bought from Amazon UK, please return the product and make it clear that you are doing this because it does not comply with the requirements of The Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994.

Whether using an adapter is a safe solution would depend on both the product and the adapter, so it’s not worth taking the risk.

I suspect Alfa is right about why products intended for the European market land up in the UK, but many companies seem to comply with the regulations.

On the web site the “Sold By” is the company and the “Fulfilled by” is Amazon so I’m guessing that means the latter case, thereby absolving Amazon? Like I said, I’m a novice at internet shopping and although I know it’s worded like that for a reason, I don’t know what the reason is. So, yes, that survey might be worth running

“Fulfilled by” is explained on the Amazon website: “Items “Fulfilled by Amazon” are sold by a third party Seller, but dispatched to you from an Amazon Fulfilment Centre.” https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201910460

Which? has reported that online marketplaces including Amazon are selling dangerous and counterfeit products. Nevertheless, Amazon have an efficient returns service and I don’t think you will have difficulty in getting your money back.

You are right PatChatte. I wonder how many people realise that the shelter of UK regulations is then removed. It is a bad situation that must be changed.

As wavechange said you could try goodwill from Amazon but the other issue is whether you have bought a genuine product that you know to be safe, and from where it originated. If it is a genuine safe product from a reputable source then you could have a UK plug fitted.

Amazon provides advice on plugs for customers: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=202054860

With the exception of electric shavers and toothbrushes product, plugs must comply with BS 1363, which is the familiar UK three pin plug fitted with a fuse. There is an invitation to contact Amazon if you believe that a plug is unsafe or defective.

Until recently it was possible, when choosing products from the large number offered on the Amazon website, to select those that were “sold and dispatched by Amazon”. That filtering facility has now gone although the seller is still identified on the particular product page. It remains possible to narrow down the choice on the shop window pages by clicking on the box marked “Free UK delivery by Amazon” which eliminates all those where Amazon neither sells nor delivers the item, but that still leaves many where Amazon has no responsibility for the consumer’s rights in the event of a problem. To help select products for which Amazon is also the seller it can be useful to open any product page in the chosen category and scroll down to the “Compare with similar items” box which shows half a dozen similar products and gives the seller’s name in each case [together with the price and star rating]. Clicking on the seller’s name then shows the full business name and other details. This can help if you want to buy from a UK or EU supplier but don’t be fooled by trading names that incorporate “UK” or “EU” in the business name – look at the full details because they can still originate in the Far East.

Buying established UK or EU branded products can be a reliable means of getting good customer service as the manufacturer is in the background and might help if there is a denial of consumer rights, but this does not mean the items are made in Europe. Unfortunately, for many categories, it is difficult to find products that are not made in and sent from countries on the other side of the world, but if they carry a reputable brand name it is likely they will be well made and quality assured. Some brands from Asia do have a good reputation and can be bought with confidence if the product is a genuine, not counterfeit, article.

As Wavechange has said, while Amazon does not take responsibility for product quality – especially safety and compliance – it will help customers who have bought from one of their marketplace traders and wish to return a purchase.

It will be interesting to see how quickly trade returns to high street stores and other reputable on-line outlets when the present difficulties are behind us. Every time one major retailer collapses it does give some hope to the remainder still standing but the omens are not good.

Simon W says:
11 December 2020

I have recieved some bedside lamps from a UK lighting company with a euro 2 pin plug. There was no mention of this on their website so I queried.
They apologised and said they would send a replacement. I was expecting new UK lamps but instead received some adpapters. I emailed them asking if this was legal, and safe for me to add myself or is i needed an eletrician. The reply was;
”Please just unscrew the converter slightly and slot the two pin plug inside.
As you would expect from a company who has been in the industry for over 25 years our product conform to all the necessary legislation relating to electrical items.”

Is this correct?
Many thanks for any adivice

Hi Simon – Under The Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994, it is necessary to supply products with the normal UK fused plug or with a conversion plug already fitted. The conversion plug must contain an appropriate fuse (3 amp would be normal for a lamp) and not be removable without a tool. It is not permissible to provide a loose converter plug.

I suggest you reject the lamps as being not of satisfactory quality under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and ask for a full refund including carriage if that was in addition to the cost of the goods. Hopefully the company will learn from the experience.

Derek says:
7 January 2021

I have also just received a Fender Acoustic 100 Amplifier for my guitar, this was also purchased via Amazon at £350 and this also arrived with only one power lead, which was obviously a two pin plug.
It’s crazy that purchasing goods from a UK site leads to this situation. I have reported this via Amazon, who will contact the seller but now the wait begins, whilst I should be enjoying the use of my purchase.