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Dodgy e-scooter warning as house fires soar 150%

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Brits are urged to be cautious when buying e-bikes and e-scooters as there has been a surge in the number of house fires attributed to their dodgy batteries.

Non-compliant e-bike and e-scooter lithium-ion batteries pose serious risks to owners, as the number of fires caused by them has surged 150% over the past year.

In London alone, firefighters attended 88 fires caused by e-bikes in 2022 – an 80% increase from the previous year.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) said many of the fires have been attributed to e-bike conversion kits which can be used to convert a standard push bike into an electric bike.

It is urging Brits not to buy online unless they’re sure they are compliant and the right part, and to only buy from reputable retailers. The e-bikes and e-scooters should display a valid UKCA or CE mark. Meanwhile, businesses are urged to ensure imports fully comply with product safety laws.

‘Great risk of harm’

Christine Heemskerk, CTSI lead officer for product safety, said: “Don’t buy online unless you’re really certain where a product is coming from. You also need to be very sure that you’re using the right charger for the right battery. There should be a charger supplied with the device you’ve purchased.”

Alonso Ercilla, Trading Standards manager at the London Borough of Islington, said: “For importers and retailers, getting this wrong could cost you an absolute fortune. Trading Standards can seize non-compliant devices and gain a forfeiture order so that we can safely dispose of them. We advise anyone selling these devices to get them tested to make sure they comply with product safety laws. When things go wrong, there are consequences. Businesses can be prosecuted and the public can be exposed to great risk of harm.”

‘Batteries fail with ferocity’

London Fire Brigade assistant commissioner for fire safety, Charlie Pugsley, said it is predominantly seeing fires on those bikes which have been converted, with people buying parts from online marketplaces and batteries which have been sourced on the internet, “which may not meet the correct safety standards”.

Pugsley said: “When these batteries and chargers fail, they do so with ferocity and because the fires develop so rapidly the situation can quickly become incredibly serious. These items are often stored in communal areas and corridors and can block people’s only means of escape.”

E-scooter laws and safety tips

All privately owned e-scooters are illegal in public places and on the road in London, but they’re not illegal to buy.

Last year, the then transport secretary Grant Shapps said the Government will crack down on illegal scooters as he hinted legislation could be brought in to legalise them so they are properly regulated and meet set standards.

London’s walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman, said it is “vital that customers understand the potential consequences of riding e-scooters” and those who do buy them “must be clear on how to charge them and their batteries safely”.

He added: “E-bike owners must also be aware of the fire safety risks which come with using converted e-bikes from unverified suppliers”.

The CTSI lists these points to help you buy and use e-scooters safely:

  • Only buy e-bikes, e-scooters, chargers and batteries from reputable retailers
  • Never buy counterfeit batteries or chargers, and ensure that any device you use displays a valid UKCA or CE mark
  • Check that separate components, such as batteries and chargers, are compatible with one another
  • Register your product with the manufacturer to validate any warranties on components including batteries Registering makes it easier for manufacturers to contact you in the event of safety or recall information
  • Check any products you have bought are not subject to a product recall. You can do this by checking Electrical Safety First’s website or the Government website.