UK government consults on new regulatory framework for product safety

August 2, 2023

Since issuing a call for evidence in 2021, the UK government has developed proposals for consultation, setting out the next steps in reforming the product safety regulatory framework.

It points out that from online marketplaces to connected devices, they way people buy products and the products themselves have gone through huge changes in recent years and the pace of change is accelerating. Supply chains are global, interconnected and complex. Internet sales have grown significantly over the past decade, and in October 2022, 26% of all UK retail sales occurred online compared to 8.9% a decade ago. It also says that in a digital world, data and information become a key tool in supporting consumers and enabling responsible businesses to comply with the law. Better use of data and powers can help address the sale of unsafe and non-compliant goods online, a challenge witnessed across borders and shared by many countries.

In summary, it wants to develop a product safety regime that:

  • Ensures business obligations are proportionate to the hazard presented by their products, exploring how to reduce compliance costs for lower risk products and make the conformity assessment process easier where possible.
  • Shifts the balance between regulations and industry-led standards to enable a more agile and responsive regulatory framework, allowing business greater scope to innovate when producing safe products.
  • Uses digital solutions, such as voluntary e-labelling, to reduce business costs and explore how digital options can be utilised to reduce burdens.
  • Addresses concerns regarding the ease with which unsafe products can be sold online, creating a fairer playing field so that shopping online is as safe as on the high street.
  • Enhances the leadership and coordination role of the Office for Product Safety and Standards alongside addressing identified enforcement gaps.

The consultation includes a chapter about online marketplaces and makes several proposals, including:

  • Clarifying cooperation duties for new business models, particularly online marketplaces, to ensure effective cooperation;
  • Setting out due care requirements in relation to unsafe product listings; and
  • For higher risk products, increase consumer-facing information on online product listings to support informed purchasing decisions.

The government says that it wants to ensure the new product safety framework works well both for consumers and business, and is particularly keen to hear from:

  • consumers and consumer organisations, including those who work with vulnerable consumers or under-represented groups;
  • small businesses and those in emerging sectors, such as AI;
  • businesses who have recent experience of bringing new or innovative products to market;
  • businesses operating new or innovative ways of bringing products to consumers, including sharing economy models;
  • conformity assessment bodies, particularly those who have recently worked with any of the above businesses; and
  • local authorities and national regulators that have enforcement duties under product safety and related legislation.

The consultation ends on 24 October 2023.