With shortage fears causing chaos across the UK, some families will already be considering what toys to buy their children for Christmas.
Fearful of missing out and with inflation skyrocketing prices, parents will want to get the best deal – and get rid of it quickly.
But with more and more online shopping, consumers cannot always be sure that what they are buying is safe, trusted and tested.
A recent study by the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) showed that 88% of toys sold by third parties on websites such as Amazon and eBay were illegal – and 48% were deemed unsafe for children.
So how can you be sure that the toy you are buying for your child is safe?
Here Sky News explains what the laws are and what to watch out for.
What are the toy safety standards?
All toys sold in the UK must meet certain safety requirements.
These are set out in the Toy (Safety) Regulations 2011, which transposes the European Union Toy Safety Directive into UK law.
Although the UK has now left the EU, the regulations on toys (safety) have remained the same.
They apply to all toys intended for children and adolescents aged 14 and under, with specific criteria and safety warnings for products not suitable for children under three.
In order for a toy to be marked safe, it will need to undergo rigorous testing for things like flammability, toxicity, and hygiene.
If a toy turns out to be dangerous according to regulations, it can be recalled and the manufacturer convicted of a criminal offense.
How do you know if a toy is safe?
There are several things to look for when buying toys that will tell you if they have been verified or not.
This will identify the make and model of the toy, what lot it came from and when it was made.
Serial numbers make it easy to find products and recall them in the event of a problem.
CE or UKCA mark
A CE mark (from French for European conformity) indicates that the product complies with the European directive on the safety of toys.
Products manufactured after January 1, 2021 will instead carry a UKCA (UK Compliance Assessment) mark.
But since EU and UK toy safety laws have remained the same after Brexit, both brands show that the necessary safety standards have been met.
Address in UK or EU
The packaging of the toy or accompanying documents must have an address for the supplier in the UK or EU.
This is so that law enforcement agencies can contact the supplier if something is wrong and the product needs to be recalled.
Most toys pose a risk to children if used unsupervised.
Any product with small parts poses a choking hazard to very young children and will carry a warning that it is not suitable for those under three years of age.
Specific products should also carry specific warnings.
Toys such as slides and climbing frames should be marked “for household use only” and specify whether the product is to be used indoors or outdoors.
Food products containing a toy must state “toy inside, adult supervision recommended”.
Toys that are used in water must have a warning saying “should only be used in water where the child is in its depth and under its supervision”.
The Lion mark will appear on any product that complies with the British Toy and Hobby Association’s Code of Practice, which also shows that it meets British standards.
Not all manufacturers will be affiliated with BTHA, but if you want to be sure that a product is properly regulated, choose one that gives you the best guarantee.
Where is the safest place to buy toys?
All retailers in the UK are subject to Trading Standards, the government department responsible for enforcing consumer protection law.
Traditional retailers, whether it’s on the main street, in a local market, or online, are all regularly monitored and inspected by them – and they will recall any products they find non-compliant.
You can search for products that have been recalled on the Trading Standards website.
But online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon sell products provided by third parties.
These third parties are often not based in the UK and therefore are not regulated by trading standards.
This means that their products are much less likely to be safe and may not have been tested.
The BTHA recommends that you do not buy from these third parties if possible.
What else should I be looking for?
The British Toy and Hobby Association suggests a number of things you can do to make sure your children’s toys are safe.
If you are looking for a particular toy, find out where you can buy it and try ordering it directly from the manufacturer.
If it’s not in stock through the manufacturer and you need to use an online marketplace like eBay or Amazon, be sure to include the manufacturer’s name in the search to rule out fakes.
Also, don’t forget to search for it on the Trading Standards website to see if it has been recalled.
If you’re shopping online, it’s helpful to look at product reviews to see how other customers have found the toy.
Make sure they look genuine, as some companies have been known to write fake ones to promote their own products.
If the toy you are looking for is significantly cheaper on an online marketplace or on a third-party website, it may be a counterfeit.
Counterfeits can be produced cheaply as they use non-conforming materials and have not been tested or regulated.
Packaging and receipts
If you receive the toy in the mail and it does not contain any packaging or information about the retailer you purchased it from, it may not be genuine or meet safety standards.
The packaging should show the seller’s address in the UK or EU as this confirms that they have complied with testing and safety standards.
Jerry Burnie, Head of Compliance at BTHA, added: “The BTHA would really like consumers to be able to make the safest choices when shopping online.
“The least risk comes from buying a branded toy directly from a brand or retailer that you recognize and trust.
“If it’s an unknown seller, pay more attention, check reviews, sales history, and experience selling toys.
“Also try looking for a seller in the UK or the EU, as our tests show less risk with these third-party sellers than with those further afield.”
What if the toy I bought is not safe?
If you think a toy you have purchased is unsafe, you should report it to your local trade standards.
Details on this can usually be found on your local council’s website.
You can also write an online review to dissuade others from buying the same toy and contact the manufacturer directly to complain.