Fire risk from cheap phone and laptop chargers

Published: 19 December 2012

Trading standards officers in Wandsworth are urging bargain hunters to steer clear of cheap mobile phone and laptop chargers amid warnings that some could be lethal.

The warning comes after a cheap phone charger nearly caught fire the very first time it was used by a local resident.

The episode has sparked an urgent investigation by trading standards officers which has revealed a shockingly high number of faulty chargers on sale.

Visits to 25 shops across the borough in the past few days has netted a haul of nearly 1,000  phone chargers and over 200 laptop computer chargers that are believed to be unsafe.

Tests carried out on a small sample has revealed they do not meet safety standards. Among defects found by the investigators are: 

  • Inadequate insulation between the input and output circuits.
  • Internal components not properly secured and poorly soldered - increasing the risk of loose wires which could cause fires or electric shocks.
  • Incorrect size and positioning of live and neutral pins in cheap plugs.

The council's consumer safety spokesman Cllr Jonathan Cook said: "Our trading standards team have acted swiftly and decisively to protect residents from these dangerous chargers.

"These items may look like a bargain, but the sad fact is that their true cost could be far greater. Our message is to only buy from reputable retailers and don't be tempted to buy electrical items like this on the cheap.

"It also goes without saying that people should try and avoid leaving chargers like this unattended or leaving them on overnight while you're asleep."

The Electrical Safety Council has produced a guide on substandard and counterfeit electrical chargers, which shows what consumers should look for when buying an electrical charger, namely:

  • There must be at least 9.5mm between the edge of the pins and the edge of the charger.
  • Look for the required markings- manufacturer's brand name or logo, model and batch number.
  • Check for a CE mark.
  • Check the output voltage and current ratings marked on the charger and your electrical device are the same.
  • Check for adequate warnings and instructions.

By law only electrical items which satisfy detailed safety requirements and are properly labelled with information to allow traceability and safe use can be sold.

The products seized this week appear to have been imported from the Far East and those importing them have not carried out the checks necessary for ensuring the products they sell meet these requirements. No stock has been removed from any high street retail chain shops.

Anyone worried about an electrical charger they have purchased should stop using it immediately and contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

A further check can be made by searching the European rapid alert system (RAPEX) to see if the charger has already been found to be unsafe.

Although the laptop chargers seized by trading standards bear the names of famous computer manufacturers, the units examined so far have been confirmed as fakes.  Investigations are now continuing with the focus on tracing those who imported these products.