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A shameless plug for your two-pin plug comments

Two-pin EU plug

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.

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 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 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?

Comments

I had not expected another discussion on these confounded things. Is there any chance that Which? could push for push for compliance with the regulations, because there are safety as well as convenience issues. Taking on Amazon would be a good test case because their name keeps cropping up.

Interesting to look back at the beginning of this conversation so long ago, and nothing has changed!

For most of the public, this is more of a convenience rather than a safety issue.

I volunteer in a charity shop which sells electricals, on a few occasions recently on cutting off a 2-pin european plug to replace it with a 3 pin one have found that the cable colours were NOT brown & blue which is mandatory.
I wonder how common illegal cable colours are on 2 pinned products.

I guess the colours are black and white, plus green if there was an earth wire. Some of the lab equipment I used to buy came with the wrong plug and unfamiliar wiring, but that was quite a few years ago. I have not seen any odd colours on domestic items except for the old black/red/green colours that were phased out years ago.

If the colours (colors) are black and white then it is an American standard cable, in this case the live wire is the black one (black for death). You will probably find all American based equipment will use black, white and green wires, but 2 pin or 3 pin, you will have to cut the plugs off to find out. You may also see black and white mains wires inside the equipment from the socket terminals to the PCB or whatever.

Thanks for the info on the flex/cable colours – identifying them isnt a problem – but it is illegal to sell items ( even 2nd hand ones) without the correct cable colours and a 3 pin 13amp plug fitted and rewiring except for vintage HiFi is not usually a realistic option.

Rarrar – The items with the wrong plugs and unusual cable colours may never have been intended for domestic use in the UK, even if they are given to a charity shop.

A local charity shop was desperate for mains cables so I delivered a box of redundant ones from work after discarding ones with 2-pin plugs and testing those with 13 amp plugs.

Everyone working in a charity shop needs to be aware of their obligations concerning electrical equipment.

It is not uncommon for counterfeit/substandard power leads with UK type plugs (including some supplied from Amazon) to have strangly coloured (illegal) internal insulation. On that basis I am not surprised that the problem also exists with substandard non-UK power leads and appliances.

I wish that the Continent had consistency with its plugs. I have had one or two adaptors bought in Germany that I had to mutilate to fit in French sockets due to the earthing pin.

I could not agree more with you on this one Jonathan.
The problem is no matter what the continent (Europe, EU) proposses the UK will cry foul and virtually the whole nation, media (including Which? readers) will say we don’t want control from Brussels.
Nice one I am with you 110% on this one.

But then, reading the posts I guess you mean the continent and the rest of the world so long as UK can keep those awful 13 A things.

The idea that any developed country will throw out its existing electrical infrastructure to make life easier for travellers at great inconvenience and cost to its own population is a complete non-starter!

Jonathan, you did NOT have to mutilate the adaptor, that is a reckless thing to do. What you needed to do is purchase the appropriate adaptor (or, if possible, an alternative power cord with the correct plug for your destination).

The UK uses the safest plug in the world. It is also the only truly post-war design in use in “the West” (by which I mean Europe, North American, Australia and New Zealand). We would be mad to revert to an inferior system.

The IEC60906-1 plug was developed as a potential world standard for those countries who use 200 – 250 V ac systems, but it has only been adopted in Brazil and South Africa, and is used alongside older standards in both of those countries – so no consistency.

If some future UK government had a brainstorm and decided to switch to IEC60906-1 here it would not be possible to simply replace all of our sockets (although the cost of just that would be unconscionable), but to completely rewire all homes and business premises to remove our existing ring circuits as these require a fuse to be fitted into the plug and IEC60906-1 does not support that. Any government proposing such a move would be out on its ear before it had a chance to implement such lunacy.

You can read more about the history of standardization at:
http://www.iec.ch/worldplugs/history.htm

Scott says:
1 February 2013

I agree with socketman. The UK system has to be the best, for a number of reasons. All the sockets are earthed, removing the temptation to plug metal appliances into two pin sockets (as I have seen in Denmark). Use of a three pin socket preserves polarity (I believe this is not the correct term for AC but you know what I mean) which ensures the switch in the appliance is switching the live feed not the neutral. The plugs and sockets are more secure than some, so will stay in the wall and make good contact. Most UK sockets are switched, which I think is safer. The fuse system allows choice of a fuse appropriate to the appliance. I think the (virtual) ban on sockets in the bathroom is well justified. I have seen ordinary sockets close to the sink (again in Denmark). I am also a fan of RCDs (RCBOs are much better though as you can have one for each circuit). I agree with socketman that our system should not be changed though there must be a good argument for bringing the rest of Europe into line.

PS My great aunt believed that if you left a socket switched on with nothing plugged in, the electricity would escape through the holes and increase the electricity bill but I was never wholly convinced on this one.

I agree entirely. The EU forces us to accept directives on all sorts of nonsense trivia and yet cannot standardise simple things like plugs and telephone sockets. If we are going to be part of the EU we should standardise as much as possible.
I would go further and suggest that standardisation could include doing distances and speeds in kph like every other country in the world too.

Greg Miles (or should that be Greg Kilometers?) You appear to be in favour of standardisation for standardization’s sake, why is that? If we go down that road do we have to switch to driving on the right? That would have even greater infrastructure costs than standardizing on someone elses sockets! (Just think of the costs of realigning roads, completely renewing the bus fleet so that people could continue to get out on the pavement rather than into the road, etc etc!) Did you actually stop to think about the implications of what you just wrote? Shall we standardize on the French language (there is no way the French will adopt English)?

And do you really believe that every other country uses kilometers rather than miles? Have you heard of a country called the USA? They do not use the metric system in everyday life.

You make my point exactly. I was stopped for speeding once in a former British colony for doing 50 mph in a 50 kph zone and when I told the cop that I thought it was miles per hour he started to write out the ticket with my name and then was laughing so much he let me off.
As for the Americans they ceased all development when they went their own way. The gallon that they use is actually a Queen Anne Gallon, 231 cubic inches. Good to remind them sometimes that they use an old system that we discarded years ago.
Yes, I do believe in standardisation as I worked in an industry where it was critical to safety.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallon

Scott says:
2 February 2013

Socketman: Ideally I believe we should be standardising, but unfortunately I think the cost of upgrading electrical systems in 25 or so countries to bring them into line with the UK and Ireland might prove prohibitive.

‘Mutilation’ is a strong word, but it was a surprise to get to the middle of the countryside and find that the ‘European’ adaptor from Germany didn’t properly fit into a French socket.

The entire world bar the UK and USA uses the worldwide SI and km signs are now in place on UK motorways plus all the signs prepared for conversion as 1/3, 2/3 mile are 500 m and 1 km respectively just as 1/2 mile is 800 m plus all the other distance signs are based on km therefore readily convertible. Do you realise that the USA uses weights and measures abandoned many years ago in Britain plus for anyone old enough to have been educated in gallons the US version is 3.8 litres! They may use similar-sounding units but capacity and measurement are different.

Ummmm ….. Sorry if I’ve missed something but I don’t see what Philpll’s comment has to do with plugs and wiring?

Scott says:
24 August 2013

Maybe these are illuminated signs imported from another EU country?

Gerard Phelan says:
1 February 2013

There are no standards for electrical systems in the world.

This document refers to the possibility of opening the shutters of a UK socket with a screwdriver, to allow insertion of a 2-pin plug. Although it is mentioned that doing this will mean that there is no fuse, the significance is not mentioned. UK ring circuits are generally protected by a 30 amp fuse or 32 amp circuit breaker, which means that it is ESSENTIAL to use a plug or adaptor with a smaller fuse.

Scott says:
2 February 2013

I could not find this reference but I agree this would be unwise to say the least. Personally, I would either change the plug to a UK 13 amp plug with appropriate fuse fitted or use a converter plug with a suitable fuse. One other option might be a Schuko extension lead with a UK 13 amp plug fitted. The question then would be the fuse but if the appliances are all low draw a 3 amp fuse might suffice. Any comments on that?

Scott – To quote from the document:
The Type G plug is commonly known as the 13-amp plug, and technically known as the BS 1363 (British 13 A/230-240 V 50 Hz earthed and fused). For safety reasons, UK wiring regulations require home sockets to have shutters over the live and neutral connections. These shutters are opened by the insertion of the longer earth pin. The shutters also help prevent the use of incompatible plugs made to other standards. It is sometimes possible to open the shutters with a screwdriver in order to insert Type C or other plugs, but this is not advised, as such plugs will not have a fuse.
It does say ‘not advised’ but to mention poking shutters with a screwdriver is not very clever and there is no indication of why the lack of a fuse is particularly hazardous with a UK ring circuit.

Obviously it is possible to make up extension leads but the majority of home-made ones I have seen have not been safe. Lack of strain relief is a common mistake, so need a socket designed for use on an extension cable. The regulations for supply of equipment do not apply here, so I would fit a 1 amp fuse if that was adequate for the application.

Scott says:
2 February 2013

Wavechange – I would agree that ‘not advised’ is an understatement.

I was not thinking of making up an extension lead but buying an approved ‘off the shelf’ one then changing the plug to a UK plug but with as low a fuse as possible. But you need to beware that some are unearthed and limited to 10 amps so they would really only be suitable for low draw appliances with two pin plugs.

With extension leads, provided the cable is long enough so that the powerstrip is sitting on the floor, I would have thought the strain would be less that imposed by (eg) a vacuum cleaner. I don’t like strain which is why I avoid traditional adaptors. I am also a bit uneasy about the heavyweight transformer units but you tend not to see them much now.

Scott – Sorry, I did not read your message carefully and had assumed that you were referring to having a single Schuko socket. Adapting an existing extension lead is a sensible approach and my comments are obviously not relevant.

I very much agree about the problem of heavy transformers and recently found one with two pins held on to an unfused adapter with blue sticky tape. 🙁 Power supplies with heavy transformers are disappearing fast, in favour of smaller lightweight electronic units.

The IEC connector is a defacto world wide standard.
The problem with that is it is only rated at 6 amps. Maybe a larger 15 amp version would be close enough to home for most people to accept as standard.

There are very many “IEC connectors”, do you have a particular one in mind?

Ian Hazell says:
1 February 2013

It would be much simpler for everything to be sold without a plug as it used to be. It would then be up to the buyer to take responsibility for the safety of the plug they fitted or pay a nominal fee to have one fitted by a professional if they really did not feel competent to fit a plug! Why we ever went down the route of insisting on British Standard plugs being fitted to everything escapes me now, but we have to accept that we are a small non-conformist island off Europe and if we want to buy electricals at mass European market prices then we are going to have problems

When people did fit their own plugs, many did not do a very good job. In my experience the majority of 13 amp plugs fitted by users has been unsatisfactory for one or more reasons. Over Christmas I had a look at some plugs when staying with family. The worst plug had the wires connected wrongly (blue and brown swapped), a screw out of a terminal because it had been used on a wire tinned with solder, the earth lead would have detached first rather than last if the cable had been pulled and there was a 13 amp fuse despite the cable being thin. It was a great step forward when manufacturers started fitting plugs and then providing moulded plugs.

I agree with Ian and WC here.

I lament the advent of fitted plugs and I abhor them. I cut them all off and replace them with QUALITY plugs fitted with the lowest possible rating of fuse. I do this because the quality of the fitted plugs is often very poor and I really cannot believe that they pass the safety standards, and also because they are often fitted with INappropriate fuses.

HOWEVER …… I also agree entirely with WC – these days (and indeed at times in the past too) few people seem capable of fitting a plug safely and correctly, so a fitted plug, even poor quality and with a 13Amp fuse when a 7, 5, 3 or 1 would be safer, is the lesser of two evils by a long way.

Dave D, on what do you base the assertion that most people don’t know how to wire a plug – just out of interest, is it fact or anecdotal? Presumably you are talking about most people who try to wire a plug? Not everyone!

@Malcolm R – bit of both really.

With my electrician’s hat (now non-practising) on I have seen more incorrectly wired plugs than correctly wired ones on jobs I’ve done.

With my I.T. Technicians trainer’s hat on I am astonished and horrified by the number of trainee technician’s who have not he slightest idea of how to wire a plug, how to select the correct fuse, what the colour codes are, what the Earth conductor is for, how to identify the correct rating of cable / connector to avoid overloading or the potential consequences of incorrectly fitted plugs / wrong fuses / under-rated leads, etc. It’s certainly over 80% of the trainees I have trained in the last 16 years.

And then there is anecdotal evidence and casual observation.

It’s not limited just to “most people who try to wire a plug” though, as you ask at the end of your message, because most of the trainees I deal with have never tried to wire one until they come on a course I’m delivering and many of them openly state that they don’t believe they’ll ever need to try to do so and intend to pass the job to someone else if they find they need it done …. and that’s after I’ve taught them, assessed them and they’ve passed the relevant examinations.

It’s quite frightening really: my late grandmother, born 1902 and died 1978, was capable of wiring BS545 plugs and BS1363 ones, she knew how to change fuses and select the correct fuse wire to do so and she was also fantastic at many other things in the home like cake making, bread baking, hat making, being a seamstress …. not to mention holding down a full time job until 1971. All skills she had learned either during the war when grandfather was away or after his death in 1959 because she was determine dto be independent. Now even people who are employed in industries where this knowledge is essential don’t have it and are reluctant to learn it.

Where did we go wrong?

Dave – The reason I am keen on moulded plugs is that I have not encountered many poor ones (though I have seen examples) and the majority of DIY fitted plugs that I’ve seen have been unsatisfactory, except where people have been trained to do the job or they have been supplied fitted to new equipment. It is disappointing that there is not a decent video showing how to wire a plug online. I have asked for photos and videos showing poor practice to be removed from websites.

I assume that your grandmother was wiring BS 546 round-pin plugs. I use them for 12 volt appliances on boats that have no mains voltage supply). They provide good low resistance connections compared with many low voltage connectors.

I agree with you WC – far too many lethally badly fitted rewireable plugs to take the risk these days. Chicken and egg ….. have people become so bad at wiring plugs because they don’t often need to, or did fitted plugs fill a gap in the market for safe plugs because os many people got it wrong?

Yes, Grandma was au fait with round pin plugs – 15A (Power) and both 5 and 2 A (lighting). Still had all round pin sockets in the house until a few years after she died when we had it rewired. I still use BS545 15A plugs and sockets in the workshop, on proper radial circuits, to prevent anything else being plugged into the machine sockets out there as they are not on an RCD supply (yet).

wavechange, this doesn’t seem a bad guide

I worry about scoring the sheath with a craft knife – one of the problem areas is removing the sheath without damaging the cable, and removing insulation without removing wire strands. However, not bad – sorry it’s not a movie.
I was never taught how to wire a plug, but I like to think I am reasonbly practical – same as teaching myself to design and install cental heating, plumbing, house wiring, bricklaying. Night school, books, and get expert help when you need it, particularly to finally pass your electrics. My children have the same skills, so somewhere in the genes. Someone could make some money running a distance learning course for Householder Skills?

Malcolm

Looking at the photo, I think the earth wire will be too short. It needs to be sufficiently long to be certain that it is the last to break free if the sheath is yanked and slips through the cord grip.

My recommendation for removing the sheath from 3-core cable without damaging the insulation on the individual conductors is one of the cheap devices that allow you to set the depth of cut. With 2-core cable, cut between the conductors, strip back the sheath and snip it off neatly. Something like a Plasplugs Handy Wire Stripper will do the job, though I prefer the earlier version I bought many years ago.

There are many options for stripping the ends of the coloured wires without damaging the conductors, and some of the cheap tools work as well as well as professional items, though they would not be durable enough for routine use.

The final photo in the sequence does show that the earth conductor is too short:

Here is a video showing a plug that is wired to provide plenty of slack in the earth conductor, though the need for this is not pointed out. The amount of sheath on the inside of the cord grip is barely enough. Compare it with the next part where the guy wires a plug without an earth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KhBcX_x28A

Seares says:
4 June 2013

My mother taught me how to wire plugs, and lampholders, back in 1938. ( I was 7). All round pin and no earth in those days. Our house was supplied with DC at nominally 250 volts from the local mill which had turbines on the river driving dynamos outputting 270 volts- needed to charge the room full of lead-acid batteries, supposedly the standby and voltage ‘stabilisation’ system.. The overhead supply wires to the village were rather thin and if you lived some distance away the voltage had dropped considerably, except at times of low demand like 2 o’clock in the morning, when turning on a light would cause it to be very bright and short-lived. (The local electrical shop always asked where you lived when purchasing bulbs and supplied what was supposed to be the appropriate voltage bulb). However, DC did have the advantage that you could charge the wireless accumulator by running some of the house supply through it, with dire warnings to my mother not to use more than 100 watts. I find it hard to believe that some folk nowadays can’t even wire a plug! But then, you’re not even supposed to add extra socket outlets to a ring main without a Part P qualification. I thought we lived in a high-tech world… I was obviously mistaken.

wavechange – I also cut up the sheath from the end – not difficult with 13A cable, but not so easy on the smaller cable for a light pendant unless you have small cutters. For preparing the ends I have a pair of plier-type wire strippers with an adjustable cutting aperture – cheap and effective. The wiring diagrams fitted to many plugs can be a good way of getting the cable lengths right.

I use plier-type strippers too. They are ideal, but there are cheaper alternatives that work well (and others that are fairly useless). I suggest making the earth a bit longer than suggested in most wiring diagrams. I have seen quite a number of plugs where the earth connection has pulled out when the appliance was still working.

3 pin UK plugs with earth-pin operated shutters and integral fuse are a sensible safe solution, from a common-sense island. We don’t really want to have this standard plug fitted to every appliance as an extra do we? It’s far safer to have it factory-fitted, and more cost effective. Just put up with the penalty of having to change the plug on a grey import, providing the product meets EN standards otherwise (as should all UK sourced products). Just make sure you are competent to do it.

But there is no need to put up with being supplied with the wrong plug as the law prohibits that. Why be masochistic about it?

David k says:
1 February 2013

I have on two occasions, recieved products from pixmania which had two pin plugs.. Each time, adapters were provided, but on one occasion the product was localised to France, all the menus were in French, and the phone connection wouldn’t work. I had to return it at my own expense, really irritating, I hate using adapters, as I always feel they arent very safe.

Pixmania was mentioned in the previous Conversation about two pin plugs. Have a look at online comments relating to customer service and I would be surprised if you use the company again. Some adapters are not very safe, as has been pointed in earlier discussions.

Socketman, I was principally replying to the post about not having any plugs fitted at all. I don’t disagree with the legal issue; I presume the reseller (marketplace) suppliers are not as reliable as they should be but if you buy through Amazon for example they should act responsibly.
Incidentally, I don’t appreciate the relevance of the masochistic comment.

It is not just Amazon. Liebherr sell their Fridges and Freezers with German plugs on and then give you a horrible bulky adaptor. They should be made to comply with the law. Germany would not allow us to export goods fitted with our plugs to them so why should we accept theirs ?

Greg, Is this a converter plug which encloses the Schuko plug? If so, AND it is supplied fitted, then they are in compliance with the law. If, on the other hand, they are supplying something loose in the box (either a converter plug or a travel adaptor) then they are breaking the law. If the latter, can you provide further details of what they provide, and where the appliance(s) were purchased from?

I purchased a Liebherr fridge/freezer recently and it had a standard 3 pin plug fitted. I bought it in John lewis, where did you buy yours?

Troika says:
1 February 2013

While the UK 13A plug has advantages such as its firm fit in the socket, and not being usable plugged in the wrong way round, for safety it does rely on the wall socket and any extension cable having been wired correctly and the plug having been wired correctly, as most UK electrical designs rely on only the LIVE side of the circuit in the appliance being switched, and any error in wiring is potentially fatal, with the item possibly being live with the switch in the off position.
The reversible two-pin design relies for safety on BOTH sides of the circuit being isolated with a double-pole switch on the appliance, so whichever way the plug is inserted, off means off, completely.
Because of these different approaches, the use of adaptors is best avoided, especially if using UK appliances abroad, in which case a 13A-style test plug with display should be used to ensure that the two-pin part of the adaptor has been inserted the safe way round.
Not all adaptors have adequate earth connections – another reason to be careful to ensure full protection.

The mains switching requirements on appliances does not depend on what plug is fitted, for domestic equipment it usually only requires switching of one pole this is a EU wide standard.

Most double insulated appliances use a removable “Fig8” mains lead which is in any case reversible so the appliance could be switching either Live or Neutral.

In France, unlike UK, double pole isolators are used exclusively, if not mandatory in the main distribution boxes.
At least when you turn off the power, or a breaker trips, off is off, and isolated no matter what.

If double pole switching were to be applied to all equipment (and a lot of it already is) the live and neutral reversal would not be much of an issue.
Note in UK regs gas CH boilers require double pole isolation switch and must NOT be connected via a switched 13 amp socket, if fed from a 13 amp socket it must not be a switched socket. Perversely though, it seems ok to have the CH fed from a single pole isolator at the distribution board.

deepestbluetoo says:
5 June 2013

Isolators are also required to be double pole in the UK as opposed to a control switch has should control the phase (live) supply.

wavechange – the BS1363 plug should be equipped with a fuse that is rated to protect the cable connecting the appliance to the socket (the ring main protection is of course too high a rating for this). Generally these are 3A (red) or 13A (brown) cartridge fuses to BS1362. These fuses have specified characteristics that relate the current they carry to the time they take to “blow”.

The Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994 (which specify 3 or 13 amp fuses in the absence of guidance by the product manufacturer) are mainly intended for suppliers of electrical equipment. Using the smallest fuse that will do the job will give greater protection against fire and equipment damage in the event of a fault. Fuses complying with BS 1362 rated at 1 and 2 amp (and various other sizes) are still available from specialist suppliers. When I buy a new electrical item I check it works, check the rating and often put in a smaller fuse.

Interestingly, shaver adaptors containing a 1 amp BS 646 fuse have survived.

If UK was to adopt a european solution of relocating the plugtop fuse with one located in the wall socket then this problem of the fused plug would go away (as long as 13 amp is ok). The sockets are big enough to house a circuit breaker even.

Circuit breakers do respond faster than fuses. However, many low power items currently use 3 amp fuses, so safety could be compromised by what you suggest. In addition, householders might not be happy at the cost of having new sockets fitted. Best to stick with our current 3j-pin plug, in my view.

The fuse protects the appliance lead, so needs to be in the plug.

Bought a really good electric pizza pan in Spain last year. Checked the voltage etc. was compatible with UK supply of course. Now this pan obviously came with a two pin plug but that got cut off and a standard UK three pin fitted (not difficult) and the thing works a treat. The thing is big enough to cook a good breakfast for two even three in one go (not everyday of course that would be a bit unhealthy) or for making pizza, or a host of other uses.
Best part is you can buy these in the UK for around £95 and they come with an adaptor, I paid €24 and about £1 for a three pin plug.
So don’t be put off by the plug, no big deal and easy to remedy, but do check voltage.

deepestbluetoo says:
5 June 2013

I assume that this portable appliance is double insulated.

From time to time I’ve actually wanted to buy equipment (e.g. wifi) for use on the continent so I can’t say I object to being able to buy properly plugged kit – without having to use a bulky adaptor on those laughable English plugs.

Tp,
Well yes if you want to use the appliance on the continent then a two pin is ideal, and always better than an adaptor. However probably better to buy the appliance on the continent if that’s where you’re going to use it.

Now, those “laughable English plugs” as you refer to them as are surely a more robust, solid and safer item than those flimsy little two pin efforts without an earth. They never seem really good enough to do the job properly to me.
I don’t like continental two pin into a UK three pin adaptor either for essentially the same reason. Much better to change to a proper plug.

TP
Many mock the UK plug because it is large, but it fits the socket securely and the inclusion of a fuse gives valuable protection against fire and equipment damage. Those who laugh would do well to understand why the UK plug is the safest product on the market.

There are a couple of compact folding plugs that meet the appropriate standard (BS 1363). See one of Socketman’s postings on the earlier Conversation.

Patrick

Any chance of an update about what happened when Which? contacted Amazon about UK customers being supplied with goods with 2-pin plugs in breach of the regulations?

Hi Wavechange,

I’ve been looking into this with out legal team. We’ve been working to gather evidence that this is still happening currently and all the member comments we’ve received in these conversations have been a great help in doing so.

We now want to go back to Amazon and ask what they’re going to do to prevent such incidents occurring in the future, pointing out that it is not good enough simply to offer a return/refund as sending them out in the first place does not comply with our regulations.

We’ll keep you updated as we work on this.

Thanks very much for the update, Amy. Please impress on Amazon that this is a safety issue and not just a matter of convenience.

BobC says:
2 May 2013

Amy, just to let you know it is still happening I bought the EPSON Expression Premium XP-600 printer through Amazon Marketplace sellers GSM-Fonz and it came with a European 2 pin plug. Wondered if there was any update from your side?

Scott says:
2 May 2013

http://www.epson.co.uk/gb/en/viewcon/corporatesite/products/mainunits/specs/11941

It looks from the Tech Specs that it comes with a separate power cable. I would be very surprised were this not a standard design. Do you not have an existing cable you could use, perhaps from your previous printer?

The problem with all this complaining is that it may end up pushing up the cost to UK customers.

The regulations are there for a purpose, Scott. Shall we get rid of food safety regulations because they add to the cost of food?

I wonder how long it will be before online suppliers start selling those inexpensive devices that hold open the shutters of a BS1363 socket and allow a two-pin Europlug to be inserted. Most people are unlikely to appreciate the danger and could see this as a cheap an convenient solution, whereas it is a serious fire risk.

Scott says:
3 May 2013

Here’s a thought: do the regulations require a lead to be supplied at all, or just require that any lead that is supplied is fitted with a UK plug? Maybe the solution is to supply appliances without leads and sell the lead separately. The customer could then select the appropriate lead. This would also be ‘greener’ as existing leads could be reused instead of being consigned to landfill. I assume all leads for computer equipment are made to a common standard. If not, they should be to allow them to be exchanged.

This has its merits and has frequently been suggested. There are practical problems, not least the fact that many electrical items do not come with detachable power leads. There is also the risk of choosing a lead without bothering to check what fuse is in the plug or that the lead is still in good condition.

Some years ago it became normal to supply printers without a printer cable, so there might be a case for doing the same with detachable leads.

Alternatively, we could just pay attention to the regulations.

Scott says:
3 May 2013

I recognise this would only work with detachable leads but this would cover a lot of appliances, particularly computer equipment.

Does the fuse vary? I understood that in practice only 3 amp and 13 amp fuses are used nowadays, and assumed pretty much anything other than heating equipment would have a 3 amp fuse. I accept the lead needs to be in good condition but in my experience they are very robust and tend to outlast the appliances.

I understand that the eventual aim is to supply mobile phones without chargers, on the basis that the chargers are being standardised, again for environmental reasons. I expect most people have one or more spare leads in their home. I have several (including controversially two Schuko leads) and would be perfectly happy to receive a product without a lead.

I have seen many ‘kettle plug’-style leads fitted with 13 amp or 5 amp fuses. If we want to protect the environment we should have longer manufacturers’ warranties, which would focus their minds on producing better quality electrical goods.

Scott says:
3 May 2013

Should they be fitted with 13 amp fuses? Is the problem not that these fuses are over-rated? How can you be confident that a new lead is any more likely to have the correct fuse than an old one? I note that you refer to ‘kettle style’ leads. I agree but a kettle would require a 13 amp fuse but do many kettles nowadays have a detachable lead? They mostly seem to be cordless kettles.

I’m not sure that duration of warranty is as much of a problem as the public desire to promote the throw-away society. How may mobile phones are discarded because they do not work and how many because people want to have the latest model?

The leads are often referred to as kettle plug leads, though the plug is rated at 6 amps, compared with 10 amps for a proper kettle plug – which, as you say, is now rarely used on kettles. In public and commercial buildings, detachable leads are PAT tested at the same time as the equipment they are attached to. At the university I worked with, they were recorded together on an inventory. I never got involved with this tedious job, so I don’t know the rules.

I never subscribed to the throw-away society and with the exception of electrical items that become obsolete, I usually hold onto things that are working well.

Seares says:
18 February 2013

The problem is that we have this silly system of square pin plugs with sockets on a 30 amp ring main. The plugs have to contain the fuse, which can vary from 3 A to 13 A. (So the plugs should not be called ’13 amp plugs!’) depending on the appliance. This makes them more expensive to produce, and they are also more liable to poor contact with the fuse and so overheating, particularly the rubberised plugs. The contact area is also less than with continental round pins. European plugs, with either the thick 16A or thin 6A pins, will fit into any sockets, and if they need an earth connection it’s via a HOLE (as in France) or an edge strip on the plug. The square pin system arose to replace the myriad of plugs/sockets that existed here before the war, but ,of course, we devised something different to everyone else!

It is common practice to refer to plugs by their maximum current rating, though I agree that the term 13 amp plug is not helpful. I have not seen any evidence of overheating of BS 1363 approve plugs/sockets unless the brass pins have been allowed to become tarnished through storage in a damp environment.

Fuse caps can blacken in rubber plugs (due to the sulphur content of the rubber) but the contact regions are protected and a high resistance connection is unlikely to develop unless the fuse is disturbed. There are plenty of BS 1363/A plugs made of modern impact-resistant plastics, so I see no benefit of rubber plugs.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of ring circuits, they are here to stay for some time to come. Even if you are not convinced, UK square pin plugs are frequently said to be the safest in the world, mainly because of the inclusion of a fuse.

In my view, the benefit of the fused plug has been debased by the regulation requiring supply of goods with 3 or 13 amp fuses (with 5 amp permitted at the discretion of the manufacturer). All my electrical items are protected by an appropriate fuse (1 amp is sufficient in many cases) because a very small amount of effort could help avoid a fire if a fault occurred.

I would be interested to know the contact resistance and current carrying capacity of the earth side contacts of Schuko plugs and their variants. I know that the large earth pin on the UK plug works fine as long as it’s not tarnished or partially sleeved (sadly, there are some dangerous counterfeits out there).

It is actually very difficult to make a good contact with a round pin. What usually happens is that contact is via narrow contact lands where the socket and plug pins happen to touch. Smiths Industries came up with a system for aerospace applications called, if my memory serves me correct, hypertac but this was expensive to produce and hence not really suitable for domestic use. Making good contact with a flat surface is much easier!

The splashproof blue plugs used on caravan sites and the 110 volt yellow plugs used on construction sites use round pins. I have never seen a problem except where the connection has got wet. The large red plugs used to connect 3-phase equipment also have round pins.

I think the Hypertac products are expensive because they are high quality specialist items.

I’ve never researched the mechanics of this but I always understood and believe that round pin connectors make a better contact than square pin ones. Certainly if you look at a great many BS545 plugs and sockets – especially MK – “Multi Kontact” (TM) – you will find that the sockets contain machined brass sleeves into which the plug pins fitted so snugly that it was often hard to withdraw the plug!

I agree, Dave. Good quality round pin plugs and sockets are also great for 12 volt electrical systems, where it is important to avoid voltage drop.

I think there is an element of missing the point here! I am not saying that it is difficult to make adequate contact with a round pin but rather that it is easier to make good contact with a flat pin such as those in the UK sockets. My comment was in response to the original post which implied the opposite.

Out of interest, in the aerospace industry many, if not most, of the NFF (No Fault Found) reports relating to equipment removed from aircraft turn out to be associated with poor contacts in the interface connectors. A frequent cure is simply to unplug the equipment and then re-connect it. Unfortunately, flat pin arrangements are not practicable owing to the pin density of the connectors.

Scottcuk1 says:
9 April 2013

Two months later…is there an update??

If you fit your own plug, will the warranty be invalidated. If the appliance causes a fire, is the manufacturer liable even if you changed the plug.

So sent electrical goods with the wrong plug back, making sure that the retailer pays the carriage costs. 🙂

Scott says:
3 May 2013

I don’t see why the warranty would be invalidated. In my experience most instructions have a section on how to change the plug if required (with a description of the different colours of wires and an instruction to throw away the plug cut off). I can’t see that changing the plug would affect liability for fault in the appliance. If the plug goes on fire because it was not fitted correctly that would be a different matter of course.

I gave up changing plugs about 25 years ago. I didn’t like doing it then because I did not have the right tools to strip the wires. The only thing I was confident of was fitting the correct fuse as most plugs came with 13amp fuses. I avoided buying electrical goods, apart from toothbrushes, correct 2 pin plug, from most websites in the past and will be wary of doing so in the future.

By reading Which? Conversations, I find out about such problems.

Scott says:
3 May 2013

Moving totally off topic, has anyone encountered voltage optimisation? We had electricians at work and, being inquisitive by nature, I asked them what they were doing. They said they were fitting a transformer to reduce the supply voltage as part of an exercise to reduce energy consumption. I Googled and found there is a technique known as voltage optimisation. The idea is that reducing the voltage to the bottom end of the permitted range (about 220 volts) can cut electricity consumption (by up to 12%) and extend the life of appliances. Apparently it is available for domestic use. Has anyone tried this?

European electrical appliances are designed to work at a nominal 230V, and allow for supply voltage variations from 216 to 253V (-6%/+10% allowable for the supply generation companies, including the voltage drop in the supply line). Reducing your basic supply voltage further with a transformer could take the minimum voltage below the lower limit, and cause problems with some devices.
Industry can use voltage stabilisers for some sensitive equipment – these limit the voltage variation from nominal – but are expensive and not necessary for domestic stuff.

Malcolm is right about the need to keep within acceptable tolerances for mains voltage. A fridge or freezer compressor may fail to start up and some motors can actually burn out under these conditions.

Many small electrical items with electronic power supplies are designed to operate from 110 – 230 V, so voltage optimisation would not have any effect.

Em says:
4 May 2013

I certainly haven’t, as the vast majority of my domestic load is resistive heating – storage heating, water heating, cooking, washing machine, dishwasher, tumble drier, and even the occasional incandescent light bulb.

VO does not save any energy on resistive loads, so the equipment will never pay for itself. In fact, VO reduces the efficiency of incandescent lighting by reducing the amount of light output for a given input.

I can think of better ways to get a return on investment – like heat pumps.

Scott says:
4 May 2013

Em – I don’t follow your explanation. Surely Ohms Law means if the voltage is reduced so too is the current? (*) A reduction in current will reduce power (with a squaring involved as well if I recall physics correctly). Also, if heat or light output is reduced, energy input will be reduced also given that energy cannot be created or destroyed (nuclear reactions excepted). That said, where there is a thermostat involved or a job to be done – such as boiling the water in a kettle – the equipment will cancel any savings.

What about the argument that appliance life is extended?

(*) I appreciate that Ohms Law relates to DC and things may be a bit different with AC.

Em says:
4 May 2013

You are absolutely right. If there is a heating job to be done, the appliance will just run longer, cancelling any benefit.

You might be interested to read an Ofgem report on the VPhase VX1 trial – you will have to Google this but it should come up on the first page. The manufacturer was particularly keen to avoid any property with closed-loop (i.e. thermostatic) electric heating installed as:

i) there is no saving for this type of load,

ii) the VX1 is bypassed during periods of high demand to avoid overheating the unit,

iii) the percentage saving on consumption is much reduced, although the absolute saving is the same.

The average saving during the trial was around 5% or less than 1kWH per day – about 10p. In spite of this controlled trial, the VPhase website seems to be promoting unrealistic savings of double this amount.

The VPhase will cost around £200 and probably another £200 to install = £400. As the payback period is over 10 years, it is off my radar at the moment. I’m all in favour of energy savings and CO2 reduction, but I would rather reduce my space heating load by improvements in insulation, heat pumps (already have two), and spending money on “A”-rated appliances.

As to extended appliance life, I can’t think of a single appliance that has “burnt out” due to over-voltage. Usually cracked cabinets, leaks, safety risk, worn motor brushes and bearings, obsolete, wear and tear.

Still, it may be the best solution for others.

An additional problem with voltage optimisation systems is that most, if not all, electronic appliances – TVs, computers, microwave ovens etc – use switch mode power supplies. These are essentially constant input power devices so as the supply voltage reduces the current taken from the supply increases and vice versa. The result is there is no power saving available by simply reducing the supply voltage.