UKCA & CE Marking - Whats Happening?
In a change of policy, the UK Government announced at the beginning of August 2023 that UK businesses may now continue “indefinitely” to use the CE (Conformité Européenne, or European Conformity) mark on the majority of their goods intended for the UK market. The previous intention had been to replace it with a new UK-only conformity mark, called UKCA.
What Is A Conformity Mark?
CE marking is mandatory in the EU, to ensure that products traded within its sphere of influence – the European Economic Area – meet all the necessary health and safety regulations, environmental requirements and any specific standards applicable to the product. Products carrying the mark have been inspected and assessed by the relevant authorities, to prove that they conform with these and other applicable EU Directives. Once it’s passed this assessment, the product can legally be placed on the EU market.
When the UK officially left the European Union on 31st January 2020, an agreement was made with the EU to redefine their trade relationships. Compliance with European regulations such as CE marking was due to be phased out under the so-called Brexit policy. Enter the UKCA marking system. The new term stood for “UK Conformity Assessed” and introduced a replacement product certification system for British manufactured products.
The UKCA mark is very similar in meaning and applicability to the CE mark, just limited to a smaller economic arena. The standards still cover areas including product safety, eco-friendly design and durability, in a wide range of different products. These include electrical goods, gas appliances, construction materials, toys, fireworks, radio equipment and medical devices.
What’s Happening To UKCA And CE Marking?
The new UK marking regulations were due to take effect on Brexit day – 31st December 2020 – and be enforceable from 1st January 2021. However, in a government press release dated 24th August 2021, it was announced that industries could continue to use the CE mark until 1st January 2023. At this point, the government were offering manufacturers more time to make the changeover, in part due to the huge impact on businesses of the pandemic. A further statement was then released on 14th November 2022 that allowed use and recognition of CE marking to be extended until the end of December 2024. The new mark would then become mandatory from 1st January 2025.
The latest decision therefore follows two previous deferrals of the policy being implemented. This is partly due to consistent opposition from UK businesses faced with a large and needless expenditure on product conformity assessment. UK manufacturers whose products are sold both nationally and in the EU would have been subjected to two separate conformity assessments for a single product. This would result in providing two different conformity assessment marks, increasing the total costs of bringing a product to market.
Despite their Brexit policy climbdown, the UK government has not yet abandoned the UKCA mark. Manufacturers are still at liberty to use it, though why a manufacturer would choose a UK-limited conformity assessment instead of (or even as well as) a broadly recognised conformity assessment is puzzling. It’s possible that the recent decision will lead to manufacturers cherry-picking from the UK and EU standards for their products.
Also, the UKCA mark applies only to goods for sale in England, Wales and Scotland, excluding Northern Ireland because of ongoing politico-economic issues. Businesses selling electronics, consumer goods and industrial products may now use either UKCA or CE marks for products placed on the British market. In the original concept, the new mark could be used in tandem with the existing CE mark in most of the UK, but products intended for Northern Ireland or other outside markets had to continue using the CE mark.
What’s Included In The New Rule?
The Department for Business and Trade has offered an indefinite extension of CE mark usage to manufacturers in the following 18 product categories:
- Radio equipment
- Pressure equipment
- Simple pressure vessels
- Measuring instruments
- Measuring container bottles
- Non-automatic weighing instruments
- Gas appliances
- Equipment for use outdoors
- Recreational craft and personal watercraft
- ATEX equipment
- Personal protective equipment
- low-voltage electrical equipment
- Items subject to electromagnetic compatibility regulations
This still leaves many other key product sectors out in the cold. Manufacturers for the construction industry, those making marine and rail products and several others are now suffering considerable uncertainty about product marking. The government has promised that it will communicate specific plans for those product sectors in due course. This follows a previous statement on 9th December 2022, when it was announced that CE marking for construction products would continue to be recognised until 30th June 2025, in order to “allow businesses to prepare for the UK mark”.
Furthermore, it’s significant that there are some important exclusions to the indefinite extension policy for CE marking. It does not currently cover medical devices, which is a concern for their manufacturers. For this reason, the regulatory agency for medicines and healthcare products is consulting separately for conformity policy in the medical device field.
The government is putting a positive spin on the deferment decision, saying that it was for the benefit of industry to postpone “a cliff-edge” cut-off point. It emphasised that business would now be able to cut back on unnecessary costs, which was precisely the objection to the changeover in the first place. In a slick political sleight-of-hand, it was suggested that it was the government who was taking the initiative in cutting through red tape and associated cost burdens, when it was in fact a response to industry objections to their introduction.
Many companies have already laid out considerable sums in complying with UKCA marking to meet the previous deadlines. There is, of course, no reference in the announcements to suggest that any form of reimbursement will be offered. In the long run, manufacturers have at least breathed a temporary sigh of relief, as the decision safeguards their competitiveness, increases business confidence and reinstates the UK as a viable destination for investment.
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