Posted: Tue 13th Dec 2022

Illegal Christmas lights sold online putting users at risk of electric shocks or fires, says Which?

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Dec 13th, 2022

Christmas lights bought from online marketplaces are being sold illegally and in some cases putting users at risk of electric shocks or fires, a Which? investigation has found.

The consumer champion tested Christmas tree lights at the cheaper end of the price range – all £15 or under – bought from online marketplaces AliExpress, Amazon, eBay and Wish, and found that 10 of the 12 sets of lights bought failed to meet the requirements of the Electrical Equipment (Safety) regulations and could not legally be sold in the UK.

Amazon said: ‘Safety is a top priority at Amazon and we require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations. We have proactive measures in place to prevent non-compliant items from being listed and we continuously monitor our store so customers can shop with confidence. We have now removed the two items from our store.’

These latest findings further support Which?’s calls for online marketplaces to be given greater legal responsibility to prevent dangerous and illegal products being sold on their sites.

One set of lights bought from a seller on Wish was so badly made that it posed both an electric shock risk to anyone using it and was also a fire hazard. The Fairy LED string lights, costing £13, had problems with the cable, the control box and the plug.

Wish said: ‘Product safety is a top priority for Wish, and we have clear policies in place that prohibit the listing or sale of items on our platform that violate local or other applicable laws, regulations, and/or safety standards. As soon as we were made aware of these unsafe items being listed on our platform, we took immediate steps to take them down and conduct monitoring over certain other identical merchant listings. We thank Which? for bringing these to our attention.’

The build quality was so poor that the white control box could easily be pulled apart by a child, exposing accessible live parts. Wires could be pulled out by hand with little force.

The product was also marked as being waterproof, but Which? found no evidence of this when it took it to pieces and examined the components.

Another set of lights bought from a seller on AliExpress for £13.23 were so poorly manufactured that they could give anyone using them an electric shock.

Which? found poor-quality soldering and a transformer that did not meet the minimum requirements for creepage and clearance distances, which is the space between the live and neutral sections of the circuit board. This means the lights present an electric shock hazard for users.

The pins on the plug were too short and there were numerous problems with the packaging, markings and documents provided. Finally, during Which?’s electrical strength test, the lights blew. These lights are illegal to sell in the UK and dangerous.

eBay said: ‘We take the safety of our users very seriously, and we have removed the listings that Which? flagged to us. Our close working relationships with stakeholders and regulators are an important part of our global product safety strategy for keeping our platform safe. Our Regulatory Portal enables authorities from around the world to report listings of unsafe products for swift removal.

‘We also have automatic block filters in place, aimed at preventing unsafe listings. These filters blocked 7.4 million listings in 2021 and are updated on a regular basis. On the rare occasion that an unsafe product does make it onto site, we swiftly remove it and provide product safety education to the sellers to prevent relisting.’

Ten of the 12 sets of Christmas lights Which? tested – including two from Amazon and two from eBay – failed compliance checks and cannot be sold legally in the UK. They failed to come with instructions or were missing key markings covering things like how to dispose of the lights and what their electrical ratings are.

Only two sets of lights, one bought from Amazon and one from eBay, passed all of Which?’s tests and are legal to be sold and safe to use.

AliExpress, Amazon, eBay and Wish all said that they had removed the products found to be illegal for sale from their platforms.

AliExpress said: ‘The items identified as part of the investigation by Which? have been removed. We have reviewed similar product listings to ensure sellers have provided the correct information and paperwork. As a third-party marketplace, AliExpress does not take custody of the goods being sold by third party sellers. We have policies in place that all our sellers must comply with in order to create a safe shopping environment.’

Which?’s latest research highlights why online platforms need to be given greater legal responsibility for unsafe and illegal products on their sites so consumers have better protection from being harmed.

The government must ensure that online marketplaces are made legally responsible for unsafe products sold on their sites. The Office for Product Safety and Standards’ (OPSS) long overdue product safety review should include this as part of wider measures to strengthen product safety protections for consumers.

Sue Davies, Which? Head of Consumer Protection Policy, said:

“Cheap Christmas lights could be tempting for many of us trying to save money amid the cost of living crisis – but our latest research shows consumers could be putting themselves in danger due to online marketplaces failing to take safety seriously.

“The government must make online marketplaces legally responsible for dangerous and illegal products sold through their sites so that people are better protected.”

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