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New takedown powers are needed to protect consumers from unsafe goods sold online

(Alamy)

3 min read

Several domestic fires linked to e-bike chargers and other faulty goods have seen homes burn and lives put at risk.

The government’s Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill is a chance to tackle the growing problem of unsafe products being bought by unwitting shoppers.

The bill finished Commons scrutiny this week. It covers a range of activities and has been broadly welcomed, finally regulating online sales and digital contracting processes, although companies claim to have been misled about the timetable for implementing proposals and the breadth of the legislation.

Ministers have allowed fake products to flood in from overseas with widespread flouting of UK standards

Studies by Electrical Safety First, the British Toy and Hobby Association and Which? all reveal where people are least protected when shopping. It isn’t the high street, where standards are met and rogue goods can be removed. It is online giants who pose the greatest risk whilst raking in enormous profits. Amazon made over £23bn last year, but online selling in the United Kingdom is described as “a wild west for unsafe products”.  

Shoppers believe items bought online meet the same standards as on the high street. This is untrue and my amendment would ensure online retailers are held to similar standards and facilitate greater consumer confidence and safety. 

This should be welcome, but ministers are dragging their feet and harming British businesses with delays. Jobs, investment and manufacturing are all at risk if the sale of counterfeit goods continues. Ministers have allowed fake products to flood in from overseas with widespread flouting of UK standards. The Brexit “take back control” mantra has proved another empty slogan and failed to evolve into solutions to this issue. Current government plans create a system which takes months to remove problem products and could cost people thousands to take cases. 

Consumer and business groups are united behind amendments I tabled in bill committee. In particular, I sought the means of quickly removing from online sale any item that is dangerous or counterfeit. This new takedown power would get shoddy or fake products removed fast. It could help Trading Standards and other agencies identify and get Amazon and other platforms to withdraw problem items swiftly. 

Currently, there are severe concerns about e-bike chargers and rogue energy saving devices. The government is aware but fails to act: the bill would leave millions at risk for months even when these products are known to be faulty. It is insufficient to tackle the scale and growth of the problem, and insufficient given the level of danger posed.

My amendment would help address the immediacy of the challenge and allow for the fast removal from sale of dangerous, dodgy goods. It could help prevent more accidents or deaths and I hope before the bill reaches Report Stage, that the government decides British standards, British businesses and British customers do matter and adopts my proposal.

 

Neil Coyle, Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark

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