When you’re sourcing fair prizes and toys, low prices and ease of purchase make online shopping a great way to save time and money. But not all items for sale in the UK are as safe as you might think.
Popular online marketplaces, including AliExpress, Amazon Marketplace, eBay, Shein, Temu and Wish, aren’t legally required to check if toys sold by third-party sellers comply with UK safety standards before allowing them to be sold on their platforms. Indeed, they are only accountable if they are aware an item is illegal, leaving buyers exposed to dangerous products.
As part of a study into toy safety, the British Toy & Hobby Association tested toys bought from sites such as these over the course of a year. It found that 86% of the toys purchased were illegal to sell in the UK as they failed to comply with UK toy safety requirements, and 60% were unsafe for a child to play with. The study concluded that there is a risk of death and serious injury to children from the sale of these toys.
‘Toy safety is a specialised and technical subject,’ says Vicky Walmsley, manager at toy importer Risus Wholesale and PTA chair. ‘Toys sold or given away as prizes at a PTA fair should carry a genuine UKCA or CE mark (until 31 December 2024) to show they’ve been properly tested and comply with UK standards. I worry when I see PTAs recommending potentially unsafe toys on social media. How would people feel if a child was injured because of an illegal toy won at a PTA event?’
Walmsley warns that the dangers aren’t always immediately apparent. The questions asked in the testing process aren’t always what you’d ask yourself: Do those crayons contain poisonous heavy metals such as cadmium and lead? Does a pen cap have enough airflow to avoid choking if inhaled? Does a plastic ball contain cancer-causing phthalates? Does the cord on a necklace need a breaker to prevent strangulation? Is a magnet so strong it could harm a child if swallowed?
Proper testing isn’t an overnight process. Well-established, reputable UK wholesalers and importers should be able to provide compliance information for any toy on their site. Items should be labelled with the importer’s name and an address in the UK or EU, and the importer must hold a technical file and risk assessment for each item.
‘We once received a phone call about a child who had swallowed a toy we’d supplied and been taken to hospital. We checked the list of ingredients and were able to reassure the parents that their child had ingested a non-toxic flour mix and would be fine,’ says Vicky Walmsley.
What should the PTA look out for?
Disreputable businesses: Be wary of any company that doesn’t have its own website. If it doesn’t look like an established, professional business, it probably isn’t. Find out when it was set up and how long it has been trading.
Fake goods: Avoid counterfeit toys that may be dangerous. If the price for a branded toy looks too good to be true, it’s probably fake. It could be seized by customs and destroyed with no comeback or refund for the PTA.
Hidden pricing: Items may initially appear cheap, but once you factor in VAT, duty and courier charges, the price can shoot up.
Public liability: If a PTA brings toys into the UK for non-personal use, it will be classed as an importer and could be held responsible for any incident caused.
Toys that aren’t as advertised: Poor-quality goods that look nothing like the photo on the website and break easily. It may be possible to get a refund eventually, but the PTA will need to find alternatives quickly.
What are the safety marks?
The UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) marking is a new UK product marking covering most goods which previously required the CE marking. Businesses can still use the CE mark until 31 December 2024. For further information visit gov.uk/guidance/ce-marking.
The Lion Mark shows that a product has been made by a British Toy & Hobby Association member to a high standard of safety and quality.
Of course, it is possible to fake these marks, so use good judgement and take an overall view of any site you’re thinking of using.
- For more information, visit: gov.uk/government/news/buy-toys-safely-this-christmas