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How do you make sure the toys you buy your children are safe?

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With fears of shortages causing chaos across the UK, some families will already be considering what toys to buy their children for Christmas.

Scared of missing out and with inflation sending prices soaring, parents will be keen to get the best deal – and get it out of the way quickly.

But with more shopping being done online, consumers can’t always be sure what they’re buying is safe, tried 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 the toy you buy your child is safe?

Here Sky News explains what the laws are and what to look out for.

Fisher-Price are known for manufacturing toys for babies
Image: Toys should come with the relevant warnings and safety-compliance markings. File pic

What are toy safety standards?

All toys sold in the UK are expected to meet certain safety requirements.

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These are laid out in the Toy (Safety) Regulations 2011, which puts the European Union Toy Safety Directive into UK law.

Although the UK has now left the EU, the Toy (Safety) Regulations have remained the same.

They apply to all toys intended for children and teenagers of 14 and younger, with specific criteria and safety warnings for products unsuitable for under-threes.

For a toy to be branded safe it will have had to undergo rigorous testing for things such as flammability, toxicity and hygiene.

If a toy is proven to be unsafe according to the regulations, it can be recalled and the manufacturer found guilty of a criminal offence.

How do I know if a toy is safe?

There are several things to look for when shopping for toys that will tell you whether they have been safety checked or not.

These include:

Serial number

This will identify the specific toy’s make and model, what batch it came from and when it was made.

Serial numbers make products easier to find and to recall them if they go wrong.

CE or UKCA mark

A CE mark (from the French for European conformity) shows that the product complies with the EU’s Toy Safety Directive.

Products made after 1 January 2021 will have a UKCA (UK conformity assessed) mark instead.

But as EU and UK laws on toy safety have stayed the same after Brexit, both marks show that the necessary safety standards have been met.

Some interactive toys are vulnerable to being hacked
Image: All toys should have been tested for things like toxicity, flammability and hygiene. File pic

UK or EU address

The toy’s packaging or documents that come with it must have an address for the supplier in the UK or the EU.

This is so that enforcement agencies can contact the supplier if something goes wrong and the product needs to be recalled.

Warnings

Most toys pose risks to children if used without supervision.

Any product with small parts carries a risk of choking for very small children and will have a warning on it saying it is not appropriate for under-threes.

Specific products should also have particular warnings on them.

Toys such as slides and climbing frames should have one saying ‘for domestic use only’ and specify whether the product should be used indoors or outdoors.

Food products that have a toy included should state ‘toy inside, adult supervision recommended’.

Toys that are used in water should have a warning saying ‘only to be used in water which the child is within its depth and supervision’.

Lion Mark

The Lion Mark will appear on any product that conforms to the British Toy and Hobby Association’s code of practice, which also shows that it complies with UK standards.

Not all manufacturers will be signed up to the BTHA, but if you want to be sure a product is properly regulated, choosing one that is gives you the best guarantee.

Undated handout photo issued by Waitrose of children's magazines on a shop shelf. Waitrose has said it will no longer sell children's magazines containing plastic disposable toys in its latest move to tackle pollution. Issue date: Tuesday March 23, 2021.
Image: Toys bought in bricks-and-mortar shops are regulated by Trading Standards. File pic

Where is the safest place to buy toys from?

All retailers in the UK are subject to Trading Standards, the government department responsible for enforcing consumer protection legislation.

Traditional retailers, either on the high street, a local market or online, are all regularly monitored and inspected by them – and they will recall any products they find to be non-compliant.

You can search for products that have been recalled on the Trading Standards website.

But online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon sell products supplied by third parties.

These third parties are often not based in the UK and are therefore not regulated by Trading Standards.

This means their products are far less likely to be safe and may not have been tested.

The BTHA recommends not buying from these third parties if possible.

What else should I look out for?

The British Toy and Hobby Association suggests a number of things you can do to make sure your children’s toys are safe.

Research

If you’re looking for a particular toy, research where you can buy it and try to order it directly from the manufacturer.

If it’s not in stock via the manufacturer and you need to use an online marketplace like eBay or Amazon, make sure you include the manufacturer’s name in the search to eliminate counterfeits.

Also remember to search for it on the Trading Standards website to see if it’s been recalled.

Reviews

If buying online, it’s useful 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.

Price

If the toy you’re looking for is considerably cheaper on an online marketplace or third party website, it may be counterfeit.

Counterfeits can be produced cheaply because they use non-compliant materials and have not been tested or regulated.

Packaging and receipts

If you receive the toy in the post and it does not include any packaging or information about the retailer you bought it from, it may not be genuine or safety compliant.

The packaging should state the seller’s UK or EU address, as this confirms 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 a retailer you recognise and trust.

“If it is from an unknown seller take more care, check reviews, sales history, and experience of selling toys.

“Also try to look for a UK or EU seller as our testing shows less risk with these third-party sellers rather than those from further afield.”

What do I do if the toy I’ve bought is unsafe?

If you think a toy you have bought is unsafe you should report it to your local Trading Standards.

Details for this can usually be found through your local council’s website.

You can also write an online review to deter other people from buying the same toy and contact the manufacturer directly to complain.