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FACTSHEET and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Subject:  Weights and Measures

Relevant or Related Legislation:

Transactions in goods by weight or measure and the measuring instruments used in those transactions are in most cases regulated by the Weights and Measures Act 1985 and secondary legislation including the Weights and Measures (Packaged Goods) Regulations 1986.

Copies of the above Regulations can be ordered from The Stationery Office by visiting www.tso.co.uk or by calling 0870 600 5522.

Background:

Since 1965 the United Kingdom has been adopting metric weights and measures in response to the adoption of metric units as the international system of measurement.

When the UK joined the European Community in 1973, we agreed to complete our metric changes by no later than the deadlines to be agreed in EC Directives. A 1989 Directive set a date of 31 December 1999 for all lose goods to be sold in metric measurements.

Metric units of measurement are now used for most transactions regulated by the Weights and Measures Act 1985. In addition, it is Government policy to encourage the adoption of the metric system for other purposes, including public administration.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

For Consumers

Q1) Why did the UK decide to go metric?
Q2) Can I still ask for my groceries to weighed using imperial measures?
Q3) Who can I contact to complain about a shop/trader who only uses imperial measurements?
Q4) How do I know that the weight on the package is the actual weight?

For Businesses

Q5) If I want to sell packaged goods in the UK, do I have to state the weight or volume of the contents on the package?
Q6) I want to sell packaged goods in the UK, is there a weights and measures system I have to comply with?
Q7) What do I have to do to comply with the average system?
Q8) Does the average system cover all packages?
Q9) What is a packer?
Q10) What is a importer?
Q11) What is the EEC Mark?


For Consumers

Q1) Why did the UK decide to go metric?

In 1965, well before we joined the EU, the Government announced the UK would go metric, in line with the global trend in adopting the metric system (including other Commonwealth countries).

When the UK joined the European Community in 1973, we agreed to complete our metric changes by no later than the deadlines to be agreed in EC Directives. A 1989 Directive set a date of 31 December 1999 for all lose goods to be sold in metric measurements.

If the UK remains imperial while the rest of the world has gone metric, UK exporters and packagers are likely to be disadvantaged, especially when trying to sell their goods abroad, which ultimately would be detrimental  to the UK economy.

"...no nation which has adopted the Metric system has failed to derive the greatest benefit from such adoption, or, after adoption has shown any desire to abandon it."
Report from the Select Committee on Weights and Measures (1862) [yes! 1862].

Q2) Can I still ask for my groceries to weighed using imperial measures?

Yes, some customers through habit continue to ask for an imperial quantity of goods. However, your trader should weigh the goods out to the metric equivalent. Traders are also allowed to show the weight of a product in imperial, so long as the metric equivalent is also shown and the imperial measurement is not more prominent.

Q3) Who can I contact to complain about a shop/trader who only uses imperial measurements?

It is illegal to weigh or advertise a product by only using imperial measurement. If you do want to report a shop/trader for doing this, you need to contact your local Trading Standards Department (address below) who are responsible for enforcing the Weights and Measures Act. 

Q4) How do I know that the weight on the package is the actual weight?

All packers of packaged goods in this country have to comply with either the average system or the minimum system, depending on the product. The average system requires packers to ensure that not more than one in 40 packages contain less than the weight or volume stated on the label and none contains less than a set level below the quantity stated. The minimum system, which is used for ‘catch weights’ or variable weights, requires that every package should contain at least the quantity stated.

For Business

Q5) If I want to sell packaged goods in the UK, do I have to state the weight or volume of the contents on the package?

Yes. Most packaged goods that are made up within the range of 5g to 10kg or 5ml to 10 L have to state the weight or volume. However there are exceptions to this and suggest you check your product against the Packaged Goods Regulations, or check with your local Trading Standards Department.

Q6) I want to sell packaged goods in the UK, is there a weights and measures system I have to comply with?

Yes, most packages in the UK are packed using the ‘average’ system, as set out in the Packaged Good Regulations. Some products are still packed using the minimum system, although this mainly applies to catch weigh or variable weight packages. The average system is used across the European Community, and indeed in most countries throughout the world. The fundamental aim of the average system is to ensure that consumers can rely on the accuracy of quantity indications and are protected against unlawful short measure whilst recognising that there is inherently some fluctuation in the automatic packing process and setting tolerances to allow for small fluctuations.

Q7) What do I have to do to comply with the average system?

Packages must be marked with the weight or volume of the contents and packers and imports must work to three rules:

1. The contents of the packages must not be less on average than the nominal quantity (i.e. that marked on the label)

2. Not more than 1 Package in 40 may contain less than the nominal quantities, by more than an amount know as the tolerable negative error. This varies according to the quantity stated on the package.

3. No packages are allowed to contain less than the nominal quantity by more than twice the tolerable negative error.

A “Code of practical guidance for packers and importers” on meeting the requirements of the average system, is available from The Stationery Office by visiting www.tso.co.uk or by calling 0870 600 5522.

 

Q8) Does the average system cover all packages?

 

No. It applies to goods made up in packages to a predetermined constant quantity above 5gm or 5 ml and to some other goods, such as unwrapped bread and knitting yarn, which are listed in the Packaged Goods Regulations. For example, packs of Cheddar cheese made up to a nominal quantity of 250 g are included, but packs of the same cheese which are made up, weighed and marked with the weight they happen to contain (i.e. catch weights) are outside the average system. Certain goods, such as, ice cream, cakes, fresh fruit and vegetables are excluded, as are goods used in processing, very small and very large packages.

 

Q9) What is a packer?

 

A packer is a person who places goods into packages. However, he or she may not necessarily be the person named on the package, or the person whose brand or trade mark appears on the label.

 

Q10) What is a importer?

 

The law defines an importer as the “person by whom or on whose behalf the package is entered for customs purpose on importation” If a person brings, for example, canned fruit into the UK, which they proposes to sell through a wholesalers he or she is the importer.  If the same person brings cans into the country on behalf of a supermarket chain, then the supermarket chain is the importer.  However, in certain cases the person is not treated as the importer, namely when the goods have come from other EEC Member States and bear the EEC mark (see Q8).

 

Q11) What is the EEC Mark?

 

It is a small e, (at least 3mm), which acts as a metrological passport throughout the whole of the EEC and constitutes a guarantee by the packer or importer that packages have been made up in accordance with the average system. The e mark is not compulsory. Click here for example of ‘e’ sign ().

 

Further information:

 

The DTI does not deal with individual consumer enquiries or complaints. If you have an enquiry or are a business that needs advice on weights and measures please contact your local Trading Standards Department. To find the number of your local Department visit www.tradingstandards.gov.uk and enter your postcode.

 

These other websites may have useful information:

The National Weights and Measures Laboratory (NWML)
The National Physical Laboratory (NPL)
The Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS)
The United Kingdom Weighing Federation
UK Metric Association

British Weights and Measures Association

For further information please contact:

Enquiry Unit

020 7215 5000

National Weights and Measures Laboratory (NWML)

020 8943 7272

United Kingdom Weighing Federation

01604 622 023

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Last updated 13 December 2005


Department of Trade and Industry

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