News item

Warning over millions of unsafe products arriving at our ports and borders

Latest figures from National Trading Standards reveal nearly two million unsafe or noncompliant products were identified between April and December 2014. Children’s toys, cosmetics and DIY products are biggest offenders.

Children’s scooters, beauty products and LED lights are among 1.9 million items that were intercepted at entry points in England and Wales between April and December 2014, estimates from National Trading Standards reveal. The new figures, which equate to more than 6,500 detained items every day, are thought to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as consumers are urged to  take extra care when shopping online.

During the nine-month period analysed by National Trading Standards*, nearly two in five interventions by its Safety at Ports and Borders teams identified products as ‘unsafe or noncompliant’, meaning they posed a risk to the health or safety of consumers. Taking these products out of the supply chain is estimated to save the UK economy over £57 million** in potential costs of injuries, fatalities or fires.

Items detained by the NTS Safety at Ports and Borders teams, who work across 14 local authorities at ports, airports and postal hubs, included 397 home tooth whitening kits containing unsafe levels of hydrogen peroxide, thousands of cosmetic products like shampoo, skin lightening cream and body lotion, LED lights, children’s scooters and other toys.

With consumers increasingly shopping online and searching for a bargain, National Trading Standards is urging everyone to think before they buy and has produced a checklist to help people shop more safely. Top tips include checking out the reviews of the product you want to purchase – or the seller you wish to buy from – and checking that there is a way to contact the seller offline.

Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said:

“In this country it is easy to take for granted that everything we buy will be safe. But on the internet you are exposed to rogue traders all over the world who are waiting to lure you in with tempting deals for products that are frankly dangerous. Protecting consumers from harm is our top priority and our Safety at Ports and Borders teams are uncovering thousands of unsafe items at check points every day.

“We are proud of our teams’ work but sadly we believe these figures just represent the tip of the iceberg. We are urging consumers to be on their guard when shopping online, doing some research before they buy and being wary of deals that look good to be true. And to help us do our job, we are asking people to report any sellers, websites or products they’ve received that they suspect of being unsafe to the Citizen’s Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.”

To support the work of the NTS Safety at Ports & Borders teams, more funding is being channelled to the teams following a grant from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson said:

“The figures revealed today are staggering and illustrate the importance of the work carried out by trading standards. On a recent visit to Southampton Port I was able to see first-hand how they identify unsafe goods and stop them from reaching our streets.

“We have increased funding for Trading Standards to specifically target ports and borders, and consumers can play an active part in making sure they report any problem items to their local team.”

Leon Livermore, CEO of the Trading Standards Institute, said:

“These seizures over six months demonstrate how many potentially harmful items enter the UK every year. Not only do these products hurt consumers, they negatively impact the UK economy and undermine legitimate businesses. Trading standards officers strive to protect these goods from reaching consumers at ports, online and on the high street unfortunately, trading standards budgets have been cut by an average of more than 40 per cent over the lifetime of this parliament. It's imperative for the health and safety of UK consumers that funding for trading standards remain a top priority following this year's election.”

Products detained by NTS Safety at Ports and Borders teams include:

  • Between July – November 2014, 64% of LED lightbulbs tested across various UK border points were found to be unsafe or noncompliant
  •  In Coventry, parcels containing 397 home tooth whitening kits that contained 61 times the permitted amount of hydrogen peroxide were detained
  •  Nearly 1,000 chainsaws imported from China were seized and shown to have a number of crucial faults, including brakes that did not work when the engine was running and a ‘kill switch’ which did not stop the engine immediately
  • 20 unsafe children’s scooters were detained by teams in Suffolk, as well as aquarium lights, electrical chargers, black henna and skateboards
  • Since April 2013, 9,809 carcinogenic skin lightening creams have been intercepted at Tilbury and Gateway ports
  • Between April - December 2014, 670,891 cosmetic products including shampoo, skin whitening cream, soap, skin lightening oil, henna products, body lotion and face cream were identified at UK border points as unsafe or noncompliant.

-Ends-

For media enquiries, interview requests or more information please contact the National Trading Standards Board press office on 020 7025 7570 or e-mail nationaltradingstandards@grayling.com

  • Figures from National Trading Standards Safety at Ports and Borders Safety at Ports Management Data. Between April 2014 – December 2014.

  • Calculation done by NTS. Monetary value calculated on the basis that each unsafe or noncompliant item held or re-worked taken out of the supply chain saves £30.80, as advised by Optimity Matrix

Notes to Editors

National Trading Standards

  • The National Trading Standards Board is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards.
  • The National Trading Standards Board provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally.

‘Buy safe’ checklist

Although it’s difficult to be 100% certain that a website or seller you are buying from is legitimate, there are s ome simple things you can do to increase the odds that you’re buying from an honest trader. Here is National Trading Standards’ new checklist to help you buy safe online.

  • Look closely at the website before you hit the ‘buy’ button:
  • Try searching for reviews of the product or the seller – do these seem genuine?
  • Are there lots of spelling or grammar mistakes on the site? This can be a clue that a business is not professionally run.
  • See if you can find out where the company’s head office is based – and whether that fits with how the website presents itself.
  • Do they have a landline number you can call if there are any problems? Bear in mind that if the company is based abroad, it can be more difficult to get a complaint dealt with or return a faulty product.
  • Read the small print – notice if anything seems odd, repetitive or in incorrect English.
  • Is there an ‘s’ at the end of the ‘http’ part of the web address, or is there a padlock symbol in the task bar? This means the website is using an encrypted system that keeps your details more secure.
  • Don’t be dazzled by a bargain: Are the prices incredibly low? If they look too good to be true, they probably are – particularly if some of your other checks have put doubts in your mind.
  • Be aware that criminals exploit high demand: When items like branded children’s toys start to sell out at well-known retailers, the void is quickly filled by crooks churning out poor quality imitations that can put children in danger. Don’t ‘panic buy’ from the first website you find – do your usual common-sense checks.
  • Report it: National Trading Standards needs your help to clamp down on unsafe products from abroad. If you believe that any online or face-to-face seller is selling potentially dangerous goods, or something you’ve bought has made you suspicious, report it to Citizen’s Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.
  • Buying online for onward sale online? If you do this you are assuming the legal responsibilities of a business to ensure that what you’re selling complies with product safety and intellectual property legislation. For information about this visit https://www.gov.uk/starting-to-import.

DATE: 6 March 2015