In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales

If you are a wholesaler or retailer the steady rise in counterfeit and illegal products available in the UK makes purchasing products increasingly complex.

The implications of purchasing or supplying products that are unsafe are far reaching and in some cases the results can be fatal. With this in mind how can you be sure that products are what they say they are and do what they say they can do?

Many consumer protection laws include 'strict liability' offences where it does not matter that the person accused did not intend to break the law. In order to create a balance of fairness, specific due diligence defences are normally included in strict liability consumer protection laws.

To use this defence a person must prove that they took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid an offence being committed.

United Kingdom and Great Britain

To fully understand this guidance, it is important to note the difference between the UK and GB:

  • UK: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • GB: England, Scotland and Wales 
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Due diligence principles

These broad principles have been drawn from past views of the courts on what due diligence involves:

  • sitting back and doing nothing is unlikely to enable a person to create a defence
  • the nature of the necessary action will depend upon the individual circumstances
  • taking reasonable steps or precautions involves setting up a system of control that has regard to the risks involved
  • all reasonable steps or precautions should be taken; the defence fails where there was a reasonable step or precaution that could have been taken but was not
  • what is reasonable depends on the particular circumstances; one factor will be the size of the business concerned
  • the control system must cover all aspects of the business affected by the legislation
  • due diligence means ensuring the proper operation of the system
  • the operation of the system should be kept under review and be amended as necessary

Any due diligence system should be written down so that it can be followed and any issues raised should be coordinated in one department or section, or by one person who has overall responsibility for the system.

A formal quality management system, though only mandatory where you manufacture products such as gas appliances, electrical appliances, cosmetics or personal protective equipment, may be of value in supporting a defence of due diligence. Further advice on quality management systems is available from the Association of British Certification Bodies.

To reduce the risk of purchasing unsafe products always buy from a reputable source and follow the golden rule: if it looks too good to be true, take extra care.

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UKCA, UKNI and CE marking

There is a legal requirement for certain products to be marked with this when placed on the internal UK market. UKCA marking is a key indicator of a product's compliance with UK legislation. By affixing the UKCA mark on a product a manufacturer is declaring conformity with all of the legal requirements to achieve UKCA marking. This may mean that there is more than one set of legal requirements that apply to a product.

For more information on the UKCA mark - as well as the UKNI and CE marks, including transitional arrangements - see 'UKCA marking'.

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Test reports

So how do you, as a distributor, know that the UKCA mark has been affixed correctly or that the item is safe to be sold in the UK? A formal test report is the best way to verify compliance to a safety standard. There are three basic types of report available:

  • an in-house report, which means the product was tested by the manufacturer
  • a third party report, which means the product was tested by someone else
  • a third party test report issued by an accredited laboratory

All three of these are valid methods of demonstrating safety. However, the accredited test report gives a far higher degree of confidence that the tests have been carried out correctly by competent laboratory staff.

Schemes such as the Kitemark certification can demonstrate that the product has met the applicable standard and that the manufacturer has effective quality control processes in place. In addition both the factory and the product are audited on an ongoing basis to ensure the products that have the mark are safe.

To meet your due diligence requirements:

  • buy from a reputable supplier and always obtain an invoice
  • make sure the product / packaging is marked with the name and address of the manufacturer or importer
  • keep all invoices
  • ask to see proof that the product is safe (a test certificate or declaration of conformity)
  • inform your supplier about any safety complaints you receive about the product
  • for goods qualifying for the interim arrangements (see 'UKCA marking'), documentation demonstrating that they were manufactured or imported under contract before 1 January 2023
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Trading standards

For more information on the work of trading standards services - and the possible consequences of not abiding by the law - please see 'Trading standards: powers, enforcement and penalties'.

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In this update

The text explaining UKCA, UKNI and CE marking has been moved to a new guide: 'UKCA marking'.

Last reviewed / updated: July 2022

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Key legislation

Consumer Protection Act 1987

General Product Safety Regulations 2005

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.

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Consumer enquiries from England, Scotland and Wales are handled by the Citizens Advice Consumer Service who can be contacted by telephone on 03454 04 05 06. Consumer enquiries in Northern Ireland are handled by ConsumerLine who can be contacted by telephone on 0300 1236262. Call charges may vary.

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Business enquiries are dealt with by your local council. Use the Chartered Trading Standards Institute's postcode finder to locate your local trading standards team.

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